A Primer on The Electoral College

The first in a series on the 2024 Presidential Election

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #129 | By: Abigail Hunt | May 14, 2024
Featured Photo by Indy Silva / US Renew Democracy News, 2024

To discuss the divvying up of votes in a U.S. Presidential election, one must consider the effects of the Electoral College. As this is the first in a series, it will discuss the Electoral College system more in-depth.

The Electoral College allocates a state’s electoral votes based on how its citizens vote. Twice in the past 30 years, this system has resulted in the loser of the popular vote getting the White House, giving us George W. Bush, and the Iraq War, Trump, and January 6th, among other things. If the United States had a straight popular vote for President, the way every other election in the U.S. is determined, and every leader of every nation across the globe except our own, we would instead have the Presidents elected by the people – Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Electoral College Analysis

From the Constitution Center online, Article II, Section I, Clauses 2 and 3 of the U.S. Constitution state, in part, as follows:

Clause 2: Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Clause 3: The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot…. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President.”

There was a lot of other language in this provision resulting in less-than-ideal situations later – such as when, in 1800, Thomas Jefferson tied his own Vice President running mate (both bested the opposing candidate), Aaron Burr, who upon learning of the tie refused to back down. The House of Representatives chose President Jefferson. In today’s world the chances of a tie in a presidential race are astronomically low.

The strange rules governing the Electoral College system have racist origin. At the time of its conception, the South had a large slave population. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Constitutional delegates decided on the 3/5ths compromise – only three out of every five slaves would be counted. At the time, no one but white men had a political voice, and they were designing the system. It was almost a century later that the 15th Amendment granted all men the right to vote regardless of ethnicity. About a century after that, laws were still being passed to enforce the 1870 ratification.

Why do we have to live with a 137-year-old system invented by a bunch of dead racists? No other country in the history of humanity has ever elected a leader using such a system. No other nation in today’s world uses this system. For the past 50 years, a majority of Americans are consistently in favor of replacing the electoral college system with a popular vote. There have been more than 200 legislative attempts to change the electoral college system. Early on, several Amendments and Clauses added to the Constitution further delineated the electoral college process. If we could change it then with an amendment, we can amend it now. It would stand to reason those congressional politicians, if truly representing the will of the people, would have abolished the electoral college system long ago. That we have not done so is quite telling.

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