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What Was The Original Purpose Of The Electoral College

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Evolution To The General Ticket

The Electoral College, explained

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution states:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

According to Hamilton and Madison, they intended that this would take place district by district. The district plan was last carried out in Michigan in 1892. For example, in Massachusetts in 1820, the rule stated “the people shall vote by ballot, on which shall be designated who is voted for as an Elector for the district.” In other words, the name of a candidate for president was not on the ballot. Instead, citizens voted for their local elector.

Some state leaders began to adopt the strategy that the favorite partisan presidential candidate among the people in their state would have a much better chance if all of the electors selected by their state were sure to vote the same waya “general ticket” of electors pledged to a party candidate. Once one state took that strategy, the others felt compelled to follow suit in order to compete for the strongest influence on the election.

The district mode was mostly, if not exclusively in view when the Constitution was framed and adopted & was exchanged for the general ticket .

The Presidential Election Via The Electoral College

Electing the American president is set forth in Article II of the Constitution of the United States.1 A president and a vice-president are elected every four years according to a process that was originally set during the constitutional convention in 1787 and subsequently amended in the 12th Amendment to the Constitution that was ratified in 1804.2 The 22nd Amendment3 to the constitution, passed by Congress in 1947 and ratified by the states in 1952, allows a president to run for only two terms, for a total of eight years. If the presidency is vacated for any reason , the vice-president takes over as president to finish the departed presidents term. Normally, the president and vice-president belong to the same political party, so there should not be a radical change in general administration policy. But in reality, vice-presidents becoming presidents have tried to chart their own policy course while remaining within the general orientation of the party.

TABLE 1: Distribution of Electoral College

Adapted from Distribution of Electoral Votes, National Archives and Records Administration, U.S. Electoral College, n.d. .

What Is The Role Of The Electoral College

During the general electionGeneral Election: a final election for a political office with a limited list of candidates., Americans go to their polling place Polling Place: the location in which you cast your vote. to cast their vote for president. But the tally of those votesthe popular votedoes not determine the winner. Instead, presidential elections use the Electoral College. To win the election, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes. In the event no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the president and the Senate chooses the vice president.

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Why The Electoral College Was Created

The Electoral College was created by the framers of the U.S. Constitution as an alternative to electing the president by popular vote or by Congress. Several weeks after the general election, electors from each state meet in their state capitals and cast their official vote for president and vice president.

What Did The 2020 Election Reveal About The Electoral College

Electoral College Numbers Per State

In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump and his allies fueled an effort to overturn the results of the election, spreading repeated lies about widespread voter fraud. This included attempts by a number of state legislatures to nullify some of their states votes, which often targeted jurisdictions with large numbers of Black voters. Additionally, during the certification process for the election, some members of Congress also objected to the Electoral College results, attempting to throw out electors from certain states. While these efforts ultimately failed, they revealed yet another vulnerability of the election system that stems from the Electoral College.

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The right of suffrage was much more diffusive in the Northern than the Southern States, said Madison, and the latter could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.

The result was the controversial three-fifths compromise, in which three-fifths of the enslaved Black population would be counted toward allocating representatives and electors and calculating federal taxes. The compromise ensured that Southern states would ratify the Constitution and gave Virginia, home to more than 200,000 slaves, a quarter of the total electoral votes required to win the presidency .

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Did you know? For 32 of the United States first 36 years, a slave-holding Virginian occupied the White House .

Not only was the creation of the Electoral College in part a political workaround for the persistence of slavery in the United States, but almost none of the Founding Fathers assumptions about the electoral system proved true.

The signing of the Constitution of the United States at the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

For starters, there were no political parties in 1787. The drafters of the Constitution assumed that electors would vote according to their individual discretion, not the dictates of a state or national party. Today, most electors are bound to vote for their partys candidate.

The Electoral College And The Popular Vote

Although there hasnt been a tie in the Electoral College since Jefferson and his running mate Burr split the votes in 1800, the U.S. House of Representatives was called in to decide the vote for a second and last time in 1824. At the time, the Democratic-Republican party had fragmented, and no candidate won the majority of the electoral votes. Ultimately, the House of Representatives chose John Quincy Adams instead of Andrew Jackson, who had won the popular vote.

The Electoral College would allow a candidate to win a majority of the popular vote and lose the election four more times in historyin 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.

In 1876, Democratic candidate Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes by a single electoral vote. Disputed returns from three states led to the creation of a bipartisan commission that awarded the election to Hayes in 1877, but Southern Democrats only accepted the results when Republicans promised that federal troops would leave the South, effectively ending the period of federal intervention in the post-Civil War South known as Reconstruction. Hayes was declared the victor in Congress just two days before his term began.

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The Electoral College And The Constitution

The Electoral College is the result of a series of compromises struck during the grueling Constitutional Convention of 1787. Delegates quibbled over, and discarded, a variety of ways to elect a president. Some believed citizens should vote directly while others argued that Congress should decide. Still others insisted this would give the national legislative body too much power and that the decision should lie with the states. But that was contentious, too, because delegates couldnt agree on what role, if any, state legislators and governors should play in the process.

Giving states electoral power also raised the question of how less populous states would be represented. This was a sticking point among Southern slaveholding states, which lacked the population of their northern neighbors. Delegates from those states insisted that their enslaved residents, who were not considered citizens and would not be allowed to vote, be counted for the purpose of allocating electoral votes.

Finally, the framers hit on a solution that balanced all of these factors. Article II of the Constitution holds that each state should appoint electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators and representatives. While the size of the House of Representatives would be based on populationas determined by the U.S. Censuseach state received two senators to give a small bump in power to less populous states.

How The Electoral College Works

Why The Electoral College Exists

Aside from Members of Congress and people holding offices of Trust or Profit under the Constitution, anyone may serve as an elector.

In each presidential election year, a group of candidates for elector is nominated by political parties and other groupings in each state, usually at a state party convention or by the party-state committee. It is these elector-candidates, rather than the presidential and vice-presidential nominees, for whom the people vote in the November election, which is held on Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In most states, voters cast a single vote for the slate of electors pledged to the party presidential and vice-presidential candidates of their choice. The slate winning the most popular votes is elected. This is known as the winner take all system, or general ticket system.

READ MORE: What Happens If There’s a Tie in a US Presidential Election?

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Evolution Of Selection Plans

In 1789, the at-large popular vote, the winner-take-all method, began with Pennsylvania and Maryland. Massachusetts, Virginia and Delaware used a district plan by popular vote, and state legislatures chose in the five other states participating in the election . New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island did not participate in the election. New York’s legislature deadlocked and abstained North Carolina and Rhode Island had not yet ratified the Constitution.

By 1800, Virginia and Rhode Island voted at large Kentucky, Maryland, and North Carolina voted popularly by district and eleven states voted by state legislature. Beginning in 1804 there was a definite trend towards the winner-take-all system for statewide popular vote.

By 1832, only South Carolina legislatively chose its electors, and it abandoned the method after 1860. Maryland was the only state using a district plan, and from 1836 district plans fell out of use until the 20th century, though Michigan used a district plan for 1892 only. States using popular vote by district have included ten states from all regions of the country.

Since 1836, statewide winner-take-all popular voting for electors has been the almost universal practice. Currently, Maine and Nebraska use the district plan, with two at-large electors assigned to support the winner of the statewide popular vote.

What Is The Function Of The Electoral College In Our Presidential Election System Quizlet

The Electoral college is the group of people chosen from each state and the district of Columbia to formally select the President and Vice President. A person elected by the voters to represent them in making a formal selection of the Vice President and President.

What is the Electoral College used to elect?

Established in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is the formal body which elects the President and Vice President of the United States.

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What Are The Potential Pathways To Reform

Abolishing the Electoral College outright would require a constitutional amendment. As a workaround, scholars and activist groups have rallied behind the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact , an effort that started after the 2000 election. Under it, participating states would commit to awarding their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote.

In other words, the NPV would formally retain the Electoral College but render it moot, ensuring that the winner of the national popular vote also wins the presidency. If enacted, the NPV would incentivize presidential candidates to expand their campaign efforts nationwide, rather than focus only on a small number of swing states.

For the NPV to take effect, it must first be adopted by states that control at least 270 electoral votes. In 2007, Maryland became the first state to enact the compact. As of 2019, a total of 19 states and Washington, DC, which collectively account for 196 electoral votes, have joined.

The public has consistently supported a nationwide popular vote. A 2020 poll by Pew Research Center, for example, found that 58 percent of adults prefer a system in which the presidential candidate who receives the most votes nationwide wins the presidency.

Why The Electoral College


The Electoral College was created for two reasons. The first purpose was to create a buffer between the population and the selection of a President. The second as part of the structure of the government that gave extra power to the smaller states.

The first reason that the founders created the Electoral College is hard to understand today. The founding fathers were afraid of direct election to the Presidency. They feared a tyrant could manipulate public opinion and come to power. Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers:

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief.

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What Is The Electoral College And Is It Fair

Stanford historian Jack Rakove discusses what is the Electoral College and is it fair on Stanford Legal.

This is especially true of the institutions origins. Why did the Constitutions authors choose this particular system for electing the president? The most important thing to appreciate is that they chose the Electoral College not because it was the most desirable option, but because it was the least undesirable. The leading alternatives legislative selection by Congress or a national popular vote were met with powerful objections. If Congress elected the president, it was feared that the latter would become the puppet of the former, nullifying any hope of executive independence. When it came to a national popular vote, meanwhile, there were worries that, at a time when information moved slowly, especially across such a large nation, voters would be familiar only with the candidates from their home states and thus tend to choose them. There were also grave concerns that the people would be seduced by demagogues. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention chose the Electoral College less because of its virtues than because of its competitors perceived shortcomings.

What have been some previous attempts to reform the Electoral College and why did they fail?

Popular Election Of Electors

Today, all presidential electors are chosen by voters, but in the early republic, more than half the states chose electors in their legislatures, thus eliminating any direct involvement by the voting public in the election. This practice changed rapidly after the turn of the nineteenth century, however, as the right to vote was extended to an ever-wider segment of the population. As the electorate continued to expand, so did the number of persons able to vote for presidential electors: Its present limit is all eligible citizens age 18 or older. The tradition that the voters choose the presidential electors thus became an early and permanent feature of the Electoral College system, and, while it should be noted that states still theoretically retain the constitutional right to choose some other method, this is extremely unlikely.

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Congress Counts And Certifies The Vote

The final step in the presidential election process is the counting and certification of the electoral votes by Congress. The House of Representatives and Senate meet in joint session in the House chamber on January 6 of the year following the presidential election at 1:00 pm. The Vice President, who presides in his capacity as President of the Senate, opens the electoral vote certificates from each state in alphabetical order. He then passes the certificates to four tellers , two appointed by each house, who announce the results. The votes are then counted and the results are announced by the Vice President. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes is declared the winner by the Vice President, an action that constitutes a sufficient declaration of the persons, if any, elected President and Vice President of the States.

Allocation Of Electors And Electoral Votes

The Electoral College | Homework Help from the Bill of Rights Institute

The Constitution gives each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of its Senate membership and House of Representatives delegation . The 23rd Amendment provides an additional three electors to the District of Columbia. The number of electoral votes per state thus currently ranges from three to 55 for California, the most populous state.

The total number of electors each state gets are adjusted following each decennial census in a process called reapportionment, which reallocates the number of Members of the House of Representatives to reflect changing rates of population growth among the states. Thus, a state may gain or lose electors following reapportionment, but it always retains its two senatorial electors, and at least one more reflecting its House delegation. Popular Election of Electors

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