APUSH and Politics: The Electoral College

Alice Wanamaker, Editor-in-Chief

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In my opinion, the Electoral College is one of the strangest systems created in the Constitution. As a motivated citizen, I find it odd to be involved in a presidential campaign, to phone-bank and knock on doors and hold signs, and yet to know that in the end, it will not directly be your vote deciding which candidate wins.

The states get to decide how to distribute their electoral college votes. 48 out of 50 states currently use a winner-takes-all system to give electoral votes to a slate selected by the winning party. The remaining two, Nebraska and Maine, give out most of their votes based on who wins each congressional district.

A deeply disturbing part of this process is the fact that electors are fully able to switch their vote against the popular will. Sure, there are legal consequences for doing so, but the election results would remain. That gives this tiny group of people, the identities of whom are often unknown to the public, incredible power over the fate of our country. I know this process is in the Constitution, but it makes me extremely uneasy.

When the Constitution was created, it was in response to our first attempt at a unified government, the Articles of Confederation. The Articles created a very weak central government, leaving the majority of power up to individual states. This was because previous to their unanimous anger with Great Britain, the states had thought of themselves as individual colonies, not a single nation. Most people thought of themselves as citizens of their state, not of the United States.

As a result, when it became clear that the Articles of Confederation were too weak to function effectively, preserving a balance between state and national power became a central issue. This led to the balance of federalism in our nation, which is a fairly unique and exceptionally creative invention on the part of our founders. For example, our Congress has two houses. The Senate gives each state an equal number of representatives, which gives an advantage to smaller states. The House of Representatives, on the other hand, gives different numbers of representatives based on population, meaning that the interests of more populous states have an advantage.

Today, the United States is a vastly more established nation. People do not think of themselves as citizens of their states and not of the country as a whole. I believe that the presidential election should be beholden to the citizens of a collective nation, not increasingly diverse states. The Electoral College prevents larger states from singlehandedly deciding the fate of an election, but if there are more people in a certain area, perhaps that area should have more of a say in deciding than a less populous state. The Senate already stops larger states from being able to run away with every decision in our country. Now that the United States is a singular nation, our national executive should be chosen based on national loyalty, not state loyalty.

Another issue which may have influenced the creation of the Electoral College was the great difficulty in delivering information at the time. It was entirely reasonable to assume that the average citizen of a state might not have access to enough information to vote in an informed way. With this difficulty in mind, choosing a small group of qualified citizens who would put in more of an effort to become informed seems much more reasonable. The Founders could not have predicted just how outdated that concern would become. Information can now be shared easily and instantaneously, and any citizen can become informed about candidates in a matter of minutes. Specific citizens no longer need to be chosen in order to ensure an informed election.

Many parts of our Constitution have been rendered obsolete and changed. A glaring example of this is the fact that slaves were originally counted as ⅗ of a person for purposes of taxation and congressional representation. The Electoral College is not nearly that heinous of an offense, but the Constitution was not created flawless and ready for every challenge that would emerge in the next few centuries. Sometimes, it needs to be updated to fit our modern world.