Thinking deeply: The purpose behind the electoral college

Editor’s column: Thinking Deeply

Christian Morrison is the co-editor in chief of Ethic News.


The early years of the then newly formed United States of America were marked with a surprisingly large degree of disunity.  In an attempt to create a democratic society that worked off the will of the people solely, the 13 newly freed states adopted the Articles of Confederation.  This document, however, would fail to create a strong nation as the Congress put in charge of national affairs could not enforce its resolutions or even the collection of its tax revenue.  The state governments held great autonomy, but often times focused on benefitting their respective states solely without consideration of the national interest. In essence, the United States during this time period became a collection of 13 separate states that focused on their own agendas rather than a national one.  Although the people’s interest was well-represented in each state and the threat of a national government becoming tyrannical was minimized, the United States could not continue on in such a state of disarray.

To create a more cohesive nation, delegates selected from each state drafted and proposed our current Constitution.  This document created a strong national government to bind all the state governments together in one national agenda.  It also created the legislative, executive, and judicial branches to ensure a balance of powers that would prevent despotism from gaining a foothold in the government, and thus ensuring that it remained a government that represented the people.  This new governmental structure was what James Madison, a Founding Father and the fourth president of the United States, called an “extended republic.” Though not a full-fledged democracy, this government allowed for people to elect officials to represent their interests in the national government.  However, this representative system created a new host of serious problems.

The balance between majority and minority wants became one such problem.  In a representative government, the majority can quickly take over and push for their wants to be fulfilled.  This seems natural and just until one considers the minority group that is against the majority’s resolutions.  What benefits the majority of people from the different states might cause great harm to the people from the other states.  

The purpose of a representative government is to come to an agreement on issues that is in the national interest, which benefits people from all states represented mutually.  However, when a majority seizes control of the government it quickly promotes only the interests of those states which stand to benefit from a certain course of action, which can hurt the minority opposed to their resolutions.  Should the interests of a large group of people result in harm to a smaller group? The Founding Fathers did not think so and applied such a mentality when creating the voting system for the executive branch.

While the legislative branch was made up of representatives directly elected by the peoples of the different states, the executive branch had only one elected office that represented the interests of all the states.  Fearing that a majority could use its numbers to install an official into that office that only served the interests of those people, the Founding Fathers developed the electoral college system. Knowing that each state has a diverse population unique to that region, they created a system where each state is given a certain amount of electoral votes, determined by the population of that state, to a candidate based on how the people voted in that state.  In this way, states with a larger concentration could not use their population to influence the presidential election, while smaller states could still have a say in the election.

This system was made to directly combat Ochlocracy, or rule of the mob.  By making the vote dependent on how the peoples of certain regions vote, the presidential election is not controlled by a large population from a couple of states.  In this way, the electoral college system determines the right candidate for the presidency by the amount of states that want that candidate rather than the amount of people.  This ensures more fair representation of all people, as each state has different citizens, wants, and needs.

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A most recent example of the electoral college in action would be in the 2016 presidential election that saw Republican candidate Donald Trump pitted against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.  In this heated race, Donald Trump, despite getting a lower popular vote count than Hillary Clinton, got the majority of the electoral college vote. Upon glance, one might conclude that the system is broken because it did not represent the will of a majority of Americans.  However, the system worked as designed. In the election, a majority of states voted for Donald Trump, while a significantly lower count voted for Hillary Clinton. This means that a higher proportion of the country’s regions voted that they wanted Donald Trump to represent them, while a smaller amount of regions said the same for Hillary Clinton.  

The electoral system disallows the state population to affect the outcome of the election.  Different states have different people with different beliefs and different needs. To ensure that all these different people have equal say as to who should become president the Founding Fathers implemented the electoral college system rather than a popular vote system.  They believed that it should be the largest quantity of the different peoples from different states that determined the outcome rather than simply the largest quantity of people. This system, as demonstrated by the 2016 presidential election, still works as the Founding Fathers intended it to over two centuries ago.  

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