A Simple Majority Is Better
Common Sense Commentary: Most criticism of the "Electoral College", which is required by our Constitution, is a debate in favor of a simple "Democratic" majority vote in the selection of our President. It must be remembered that, when our Founding Fathers were designing the Constitution, they totally immersed themselves in study, prayer, analysis, discussion, correction and revision of the first drafts and then adjusted the instrument as any flaws arose. Their eventual choice of the Electoral College, was not arrived at hastily or without long and arduous debate over every future, possible, negative eventuality. There is a very complicated, but sound reason they finally settled on the Electoral College method. Consider, for instance, that today, with more than half of American voters receiving some sort of Federal assistance or so called entitlements, most of whom who pay no income taxes, that a President could be elected by voters who are either non-employed, by choice, employed by or supported by the Federal government, or by the large population Democrat controlled states where most of the crime is being committed. If, in this entitlement obsessed age, a simple majority elected the President, we would never again have a strong, Conservative, Constitutional President. We are simply out-numbered by those on the Federal dole. We are now a minority and we need every conservative voter voting just to preserve our National Constitution and freedom. RB
How little do they see what really is,
who frame their hasty judgment upon
that which seems to be. Daniel Webster
The Electoral College
Excerpt from an original document located at Jackson County, MO Election Board
by William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC National Clearinghouse on Election Administration
- was composed of thirteen large and small States jealous of their own rights and powers and suspicious of any central national government
- contained only 4,000,000 people spread up and down a thousand miles of Atlantic seaboard barely connected by transportation or communication (so that national campaigns were impractical even if they had been thought desirable)
- believed, under the influence of such British political thinkers as Henry St. John Bolingbroke, that political parties were mischievous if not downright evil, and
- felt that gentlemen should not campaign for public office (The saying was "The office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office.").
Origins of the Electoral College
One idea was to have the Congress choose the president. This idea was rejected, however, because some felt that making such a choice would be too divisive an issue and leave too many hard feelings in the Congress. Others felt that such a procedure would invite unseemly political bargaining, corruption, and perhaps even interference from foreign powers. Still others felt that such an arrangement would upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
A second idea was to have the State legislatures select the president. This idea, too, was rejected out of fears that a president so beholden to the State legislatures might permit them to erode federal authority and thus undermine the whole idea of a federation.
A third idea was to have the president elected by a direct popular vote. Direct election was rejected not because the Framers of the Constitution doubted public intelligence but rather because they feared that without sufficient information about candidates from outside their State, people would naturally vote for a "favorite son" from their own State or region. At worst, no president would emerge with a popular majority sufficient to govern the whole country. At best, the choice of president would always be decided by the largest, most populous States with little regard for the smaller ones.
Finally, a so-called "Committee of Eleven" in the Constitutional Convention proposed an indirect election of the president through a College of Electors.
The function of the College of Electors in choosing the president can be likened to that in the Roman Catholic Church of the College of Cardinals selecting the Pope. The original idea was for the most knowledgeable and informed individuals from each State to select the president based solely on merit and without regard to State of origin or political party.
The structure of the Electoral College can be traced to the Centurial Assembly system of the Roman Republic. Under that system, the adult male citizens of Rome were divided, according to their wealth, into groups of 100 (called Centuries). Each group of 100 was entitled to cast only one vote either in favor or against proposals submitted to them by the Roman Senate. In the Electoral College system, the States serve as the Centurial groups (though they are not, of course, based on wealth), and the number of votes per State is determined by the size of each State's Congressional delegation. Still, the two systems are similar in design and share many of the same advantages and disadvantages.
The similarities between the Electoral College and classical institutions are not accidental. Many of the Founding Fathers were well schooled in ancient history and its lessons.
The First Design
- Each State was allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each State's population as determined in the decennial census). This arrangement built upon an earlier compromise in the design of the Congress itself and thus satisfied both large and small States.
- The manner of choosing the Electors was left to the individual State legislatures, thereby pacifying States suspicious of a central national government.
- Members of Congress and employees of the federal government were specifically prohibited from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the balance between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
- Each State's Electors were required to meet in their respective States rather than all together in one great meeting. This arrangement, it was thought, would prevent bribery, corruption, secret dealing, and foreign influence.
- In order to prevent Electors from voting only for a "favorite son" of their own State, each Elector was required to cast two votes for president, at least one of which had to be for someone outside their home State. The idea, presumably, was that the winner would likely be everyone's second favorite choice.
- The electoral votes were to be sealed and transmitted from each of the States to the President of the Senate who would then open them before both houses of the Congress and read the results.
- The person with the most electoral votes, provided that it was an absolute majority (at least one over half of the total), became president. Whoever obtained the next greatest number of electoral votes became vice president - an office which they seem to have invented for the occasion since it had not been mentioned previously in the Constitutional Convention.
- In the event that no one obtained an absolute majority in the Electoral College or in the event of a tie vote, the U.S. House of Representatives, as the chamber closest to the people, would choose the president from among the top five contenders. They would do this (as a further concession to the small States) by allowing each State to cast only one vote with an absolute majority of the States being required to elect a president. The vice presidency would go to whatever remaining contender had the greatest number of electoral votes. If that, too, was tied, the U.S. Senate would break the tie by deciding between the two.
The Second Design
One of the accidental results of the development of political parties was that in the presidential election of 1800, the Electors of the Democratic-Republican Party gave Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr (both of that party) an equal number of electoral votes. The tie was resolved by the House of Representatives in Jefferson's favor - but only after 36 tries and some serious political dealings which were considered unseemly at the time. Since this sort of bargaining over the presidency was the very thing the Electoral College was supposed to prevent, the Congress and the States hastily adopted the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution by September of 1804.
To prevent tie votes in the Electoral College which were made probable, if not inevitable, by the rise of political parties (and no doubt to facilitate the election of a president and vice president of the same party), the 12th Amendment requires that each Elector cast one vote for president and a separate vote for vice president rather than casting two votes for president with the runner-up being made vice president. The Amendment also stipulates that if no one receives an absolute majority of electoral votes for president, then the U.S. House of Representatives will select the president from among the top three contenders with each State casting only one vote and an absolute majority being required to elect. By the same token, if no one receives an absolute majority for vice president, then the U.S. Senate will select the vice president from among the top two contenders for that office. All other features of the Electoral College remained the same including the requirements that, in order to prevent Electors from voting only for "favorite sons", either the presidential or vice presidential candidate has to be from a State other than that of the Electors.
In short, political party loyalties had, by 1800, begun to cut across State loyalties thereby creating new and different problems in the selection of a president. By making seemingly slight changes, the 12th Amendment fundamentally altered the design of the Electoral College and, in one stroke, accommodated political parties as a fact of life in American presidential elections.
It is noteworthy in passing that the idea of electing the president by direct popular vote was not widely promoted as an alternative to redesigning the Electoral College. This may be because the physical and demographic circumstances of the country had not changed that much in a dozen or so years. Or it may be because the excesses of the recent French revolution (and its fairly rapid degeneration into dictatorship) had given the populists some pause to reflect on the wisdom of too direct a democracy.