The electoral college: today, a controversial topic; when created, a preventative measure against tyranny. This topic has become even more so controversial with the election of President Donald Trump through the electoral college, which outnumbered the popular vote. The founding fathers incorporated the electoral college into the presidential process to create a buffer between the population and the selection of a President and to give extra power to smaller states.
Although most people would probably say we live in a democracy, we technically live in a representative democracy, meaning that while we elect those in government, our elected officials are the ones making decisions, not us directly. However, we are directly voting on who represents us, which is the biggest part of the President’s job, whether it be in Congress, City Council, as Governor, and so on. So why don’t we have the right to directly vote for our Presidents?
That’s where many are misled. We essentially still directly vote for the President even with the electoral college in place. On Election Day, when voters cast their ballots for Presidential candidates, they are also voting for who will represent them in the Electoral College.
Since the founders feared a tyrant that could manipulate public opinion and come to power, they were scared of a direct election to the presidency. “But the precautions [electoral college] which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief,” Alexander Hamilton wrote in the 68th of the Federalist Papers.
Their thinking was that with the Electoral College in place, no one would be able to manipulate the citizenry. It would act as check on an electorate that might be fooled since Hamilton and the other founders didn’t trust the population to make the right choice. However, that was before mass media, and thus information were at the publice’s fingertips. There is virtually no way for candidates to mislead voters if voters have access to all public records, all statements made by candidates and extensive knowledge of said candidates. If the public is duped in today’s world, then it seems like it should be on them. Looking past this, though, several leaders throughout history, recent and distant, have come to power by taking advantage of flowery language and false promises to manipulate voters, so why not have an extra precaution which is still democratic in nature?
More than just a measure against tyranny, the Electoral College was intended to fully represent smaller states as well. Under the system of the Electoral College, each state has the same number of electoral votes as they have representative in Congress, thus no state can have less than three. In the 2016 general election, for example, the citizens of Wyoming cast approximately 210,000 votes, so each Elector represented 70,000 votes. Conversely, in California, voters cast about 9,700,000 votes for 54 electoral votes, representing 179,000 voters per Elector. While this clearly creates an unfair advantage to voters in the small states whose votes count more than those living in larger states, people living in urban California have distinctly different interests than those living in rural Wyoming. Therefore, the founders chose the electoral college over direct election to balance the interests of high and low population states.
Although people have widely conflicting beliefs about the Electoral College, in the end, this system continues to enable democracy while accounting for the interests of those in less populated states as well. Yes, it would make elections more streamlined to cut out the middleman and remove the Electoral College, but people must acknowledge that the Founding Fathers knew the Electoral College system would enforce the concept of federalism, the division and sharing of powers between the state and national governments, which is what our country has thrived on for more than 250 years.