The 1787 Philadelphia Convention was the great experiment for our young nation, and the 55 delegates present established an indirect procedure for choosing the president and vice president.
According to Article 2, Section 1, clause 2: "Each state shall appoint, in such a 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."
While it is not mentioned by name, this section and clause of Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution established the Electoral College. Since its inception, many Americans have argued their case for its abolishment.
Some Americans see the Electoral College as an archaic system that is no longer necessary in a 21st-century America, where the voting populace can instantly click a mouse and be piped into the latest newsfeeds. After all, the framers chose an indirect method of electors to guard against the uninformed or uneducated voters. Alexander Hamilton said of the Electoral College that "it is not perfect, it is at least excellent," because it ensured "that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." Ultimately, though, like the very recognizable slogan from Virginia Slims suggests, "We've come a long way, baby!"
Some Americans would like to see our nation adopt plurality voting, but if the president-elect has won on a plurality basis, that candidate lacks a clear mandate of the people. A plurality is not equivalent to a majority of the vote, and a large mandate certainly lends more credibility to the presidency. In 2012, President Obama received 51.3 percent of the popular vote, but 61.7 percent of the electoral votes. I think it is imperative that under a democratic form of government, a presidential election should be decided by a majority. Those who support the idea of plurality voting should be mindful about how that would marginalize rural areas and small towns across the U.S.
One argument I see as valid is the fact that the Electoral College gives too much power to the "swing states," and it is theoretically possible for a presidential candidate to become president by only winning the 11 swing states of California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, Georgia, and North Carolina. A president-elect emerging victoriously on Super Tuesday in November by only winning 22 percent of the vote does not sound like a very large mandate. This has never happened, and the chance of one candidate running away with all 11 swing states is highly unlikely due to the differences in regional voting trends.
Some have argued the Electoral College actually dilutes the will of the people, and when you consider that only 538 electors ballot for a candidate in a nation of over 300 million people, that argument sounds valid. And there have been five U.S. presidential elections, but only five in over 200 years, where the president-elect did not win enough popular votes, yet triumphed within the Electoral College.
In the final analysis, the Electoral College should be retained as it is the guarantor that all areas of the country are involved in the selection of the president. Let's not ignore the concerns of the ranchers in rural North Dakota while the candidates pander to those who dwell in the Eastern megalopolis from Boston, Massachusetts, to Richmond, Virginia. And the Electoral College provides for a degree of certainty that precludes demands for run-off elections and recounts. Remember, Super Tuesday in 2000 was the exception, and not the norm.
Brent Been is a LOVAL educator with emphasis ON history and civics.