The Electoral College: Rationale and Process

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The Founding Fathers wanted to distinguish the newly formed United States from a pure democracy. The Framers defined democracy as government decisions made directly by the people. They decided to use a republic form of government because it promised wiser government. This type of government would allow decisions to be made by representatives elected by people. The one issue styled under this republican representation was the process on how to choose a president. This process has been the source of continuing controversy for over two hundred years. There have been more attempts to change the twelfth amendment than any other provision in the Constitution. Ironically, in the debates preceding the ratification of the Constitution, the method of presidential selection was not very controversial. Alexander Hamilton wrote, "The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence which has escaped without severe censure or which has received the slightest mark of approbation from its opponents" (Wright 56). Alexander Hamilton was the chief architect of the electoral college since he distrusted popular democracy. He said that the electoral college would ensure that a few men of insight and reflection would select the ablest president. Specifically, he wrote, "A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass would act under circumstances favorable to deliberation" (Wright 59). Hamilton believed that the electoral college system would reduce civic unrest if public participation were directed to certify the results of a presidential election. He noted that the electoral college concept was less susceptible to political manipulation. However, the United States has moved away from the original republicanism rationale experienced by the Founding Fathers. Opponents of the electoral college, such as author Lawrence Longley state, "Today's advancement in communications, computers, and polling computations has permitted our society to accept results the popular vote with confidence" (18). However, the question remains, has the electoral college outlived it original intent and purpose? I believe that we need the electoral college to alleviate future problems that are associated with direct vote presidential elections. Moreover, we have used this system to select presidents since the early 1800's while other methods have remained political theory. The function of the electoral college is to elect the presidents and vice-presidents of the United States. The Constitution (Article 2, Section 1) provides that each state shall appoint as many presidential electors as the state has members of Congress. Three is the smallest number of electors a state may have, since every state has two senators and at least one member of the House of Representatives. According to the Constitution and federal law, each state may appoint presidential electors by whatever means they wish. After the electors have been chosen, they meet in their state capitals to cast their ballots. The only constitutional restriction is that an elector may vote for only one candidate who is a resident of the same state of the elector. To be elected president or vice-president, a candidate must receive a majority of all the electoral votes cast. If no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the president from among the three candidates receiving the highest number of electoral votes. If the House of Representatives must make a choice, each state receives one vote and a majority of the states must agree on a single candidate. When no candidate for vice-president receives a majority, the Senate then chooses the vice-president from the other two highest candidates. Each senator has one vote and a vice-president candidate receiving the majority of the votes in the Senate wins. In practice, the presidential electors are chosen through the...
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