Monday, November 01, 2004

Why Do We Have the Electoral College?

I was surfing some blogs and I came across a post from asking to explain the Electoral College. I commented and gave a short explanation, but I thought I'd post on it as well because I think a lot of people have this same questions.

The Electoral College goes back to the idea that the United States is a union of independent states. Essentially it is the states that elect the president. Each state has the number of votes equal to the number of congressman + senators in that state. When you vote for president, you're indicating to your state legislature how you want your state to vote. The state legislature then sends their electors to cast all of their votes (in most cases) for the candidate with the majority. Technically, I believe, a state doesn't necessarily have to allow its citizens to vote for the president, though that is the way every state in the US does it. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong on that.)

There is no reason a third party can't win an election. Each state has laws as to how to get on the ballot and usually there are about 5 or 6 party candidates to choose from. In the end, though, these other parties aren't well supported and don't get enough votes to carry a state and therefore earn the electoral votes.

US Senators used to be elected by the legislatures of each state as well but that was changed with the 17th amendment in 1913 to have the senators elected through a direct election by the people of the state. Originally the Senate was supposed to represent the state government and the House of Representatives was supposed to represent the people of the state.

On a side note, some believe that the 17th amendment is the reason for the government getting too large and money and corruption being too much a part of the federal government. Many have called for a repeal of the 17th amendment. See a CNN story about it here.

Basically the Electoral College is the last remnant of federalism left in the United States.

Note: This is according to my understanding of civics. If I'm wrong on any of these points, please comment and I'll make any corrections necessary.


I've been asked in comments whether I think it should be abolished. I have to tell you that I used to feel very strongly that we should go to a national election system, but more recently I've been leaning the other way.

When I read the constitution and I do research into the history of our government, I can't help but see some genius in how the founding fathers set up our nation. They wanted to try and keep as much of the government as local as possible where people have a chance of making change. According to that CNN article above, since they've changed the way Senators are elected, Senate campaigns have spent tremendous amounts of money with the voter getting very little access in return. That's not how things were meant to be.

Since the Civil War, the states have lost more and more of their rights to the federal government in direct violation of the constitution without the country even bothering to amend the document. I'm a firm believer in States rights. With the power at the state level, we the people have greater control over the laws.

I guess this has been a long way around explaining what I think about it. I think the federalizing of our nation is not a good thing and the electoral college, being the last remnant of federalism, would be worthwhile to hold onto if for no other reason than to remind us how things should have been.