Technically speaking, it is the electors who vote for the President and not the American people.
Published 11/13/2020 | Reading Time 3 mins 25 secs
By Mike Creef, Senior Writer
Photo courtesy of Havard Kennedy School
After just escaping from a tyrannical king, many of the Founding Fathers were afraid that a direct election could be won by a new tyrant who could manipulate public opinion and come to power. On top of that, fear was the concern that the public could not analyze the qualities needed for a president and could potentially be duped and not pick someone qualified. Frankly put, they didn’t trust that the people were smart enough to elect their leader.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that “It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the situation…”
At that same Constitutional Convention, our Founding Fathers determined that enslaved people would count for 3/5th of a vote. States could count enslaved persons towards their population (giving them an increased electoral voice) without giving them the right to vote. For 32 of the country’s first 36 years, a white slaveholder from Virginia was President because roughly 60% of their population was enslaved.
It was decided that each state would receive the same number of electors as they have representatives in Congress. For a state like Wyoming, which has 269,000 registered voters and has three electors, each elector represents about 89,000 votes. California has 21,000,000 registered voters and 55 electors, which equates to each elector representing 381,000 votes. A vote in a small state(by population) like Wyoming has an unfair advantage in a democracy compared to a vote in a larger state like California because each vote cast holds more power.
The Electoral College is part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution. It was ratified in 1804 by the 12th amendment, changing the initial process and allowing for separate ballots in determining the President and Vice President. Founding Fathers debated for months trying to decide between allowing Congress to pick the President or a democratic popular vote chooses the President. Created as a compromise between the two views, the Founding Fathers agreed on the Electoral College at the Constitutional Convention.
Our history is our history; we can never change that.
So why is it that certain subjects about our democracy feel like they are off-limits to discuss? Like the Founding Fathers’ track records, the Constitution, or the Electoral College. Whenever these things are discussed, a vocal majority will claim you are trying to rewrite or erase history. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a society, we can become more knowledgeable about the men who founded this nation. We can discuss opinions on whether we believe their course of action was the best route for our country, but we cannot go back and change anything.
We can use our history and current circumstances to determine if the way forward is the best path to take. We can look at how we’ve always done something and its current impact on society today to determine if it needs to be changed in any way in the future.
Think of the U.S. Constitution.
The Constitution was the document that established our Federal Democratic Republic. It can be amended, hence referred to as a “living” document. In fact, in the 200 years since its creation, it has been amended 27 times. The founding fathers passed the very first ten amendments in one single session. They took heed of the past and the present to determine the laws that would govern them moving forward. To me, that’s the beauty of our democracy.
So then why haven’t we taken a serious look at the electoral college to determine if there is a better way of electing the President of the United States?
So Now What?
There have already been five elections where the popular vote winner did not receive the number of electors needed to become President (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016).
Changes to the Electoral College have become a partisan issue and one that rarely gets taken seriously. About 53% of Americans are in favor of a constitutional amendment that would require a popular vote. However, it is highly unlikely that a constitutional amendment passes with ¾ of the states needed to ratify to change the system.
One way to modify the system at a state level would be to eliminate the winner-take-all part. Two states have already adopted this method, Maine and Nebraska. They give two electoral votes to the state’s popular vote winner and one vote for each congressional district popular vote winner. This method ensures that a candidate who does well in a particular congressional district will get something for their efforts. Those who voted for the losing candidate have the potential for their vote to make a difference still.
In the future, challenging the Electoral College’s role should not be seen as anti-American. We should all collectively be looking for ways to improve our systems in this nation as we evolve as a society. Giving an equal voice to everyone should not be seen as a partisan issue, but rather a humanity issue.
Mike Creef is a fighter for equality and justice for all. Growing up bi-racial (Jamaican-American) on the east coast allowed him to experience many different cultures and beliefs. His goal in life is to help people realize there is more that unites us than divides us.