Why does the US employ the Electoral College?
Something as simple as a popular vote vote does not seem to need any complication. In addition, allowing Superdelegates to vote in primaries (delegates in states not obligated to vote per the results of the popular vote) seems like a complete breach of the democratic process. Am I missing something?
- 3 years agoFavorite Answer
The primaries are organized by the parties and so they can set their own rules for nominations.
The electoral college was originally established because the Founders did not trust "democracy". The idea was that the electors would be a better sort of people than the public at large. These would be people who were more intelligent and more informed. The people would choose their electors and then the electors would choose the president. This is similar to the process in most democracies now. Most democracies are parliamentary democracies where the chief executive is a Prime Minister. In a country like Canada or the UK the people don't directly elect the executive. Instead they elect their members of parliament and the parliament chooses the executive. The electoral college acts similarly although, to maintain separation of powers, the president is not selected by the legislature, but by a temporary body which assembles solely to choose the president.
But the idea of the electoral college as a body which would exert independent judgment immediately went off the rails. The founding fathers had been hostile to organized political parties, which they regarded as mere self interested factions trying to game the system. But during the Washington administration there rapidly developed a party organized around Washington and one in opposition. So what you had in the elections beginning in 1796 were electors who were not exercising independent judgment but were rather partisan loyalists who were voting for the candidate of their party.
Initially, the electors weren't even necessarily chosen by the people. Now, all the states award their electors based on the popular vote. But in early America you had many states where the state legislature awarded the electors. But over time the system became more democratic, with the electors going to whoever won the popular vote in that state.
You're right that in theory the electoral college is anti-democratic, which is precisely what the founders wanted. They wanted it to act as a break on the popular will. But the system has worked reasonably well to mirror the popular will over 200 years. There have only been a handful of cases where the electoral college vote has broken with the popular vote, perhaps the most egregious being in 2000 where the electoral college vote went for Bush despite most Americans voting for Gore. The bigger concern might be that the electoral college, and more specifically how we award electors, can distort how candidates campaign and who they pay attention to. Because all but two of the states award their entire electoral vote to the winner of the popular vote, candidates are encouraged to campaign in a few swing states where the popular vote could go either way. So the voters and concerns of states like Florida or Ohio tend to get a lot more attention than those of "safe" states like Texas or Massachusetts.
There is a movement to reform some of the problems with the electoral college. A number of states have passed a "national popular vote" law. This law goes into effect once it has been passed by states which make up a majority of the electoral college vote. Once it goes into effect it says that those states will award their electors not to the person who wins the majority of the popular vote in their state, but rather to the person who wins the majority of the popular vote nationwide.
- CliveLv 73 years ago
Superdelegates are nothing to do with the electoral college. Primaries are run by the parties, not by the government, and the parties do what they like.
When the US constitution was written, the smaller states objected to the President being elected by popular vote. In a federal country, shouldn't just BEING a state count for something? It was agreed that it should. And that's what the electoral college does - it biases the vote so smaller states get more of a say than they would using the popular vote alone.
- 3 years ago
Look at a map showing the border lines of the various states....
There are very big states like California + Texas.
There are very little States, like Rhode Island + Connecticut
Some states have very large populations, some states have relatively small populations.
The electoral college is there to balance things out and ensure that all States have an equal say in deciding who becomes President.
- Anonymous3 years ago
Let me address the second issue first. Superdelegates are part of the Democratic primary process and so, as a private organization, they can set different rules than the government does. The Republicans also have an anti-democratic feature in their primary system where some states award all of their delegates to the winner, regardless of how much he got. Donald Trump, for instance got less than 40% of the vote in the Republican primary. But he got well over 50% of the delegates.
The reason for super delegates was to encourage party bigwigs to attend the convention. The nominating conventions used to actually be consequential events where party members actually picked the nominee from among a number of possible options. There was a lot of deal making and lobbying which went into them but they did bring most of the important party members together because this was where the actual decisions were made. In the late 1960s things changed and we got the current system where primary election victories determined who the nominee was. This was more democratic, but it also turned the conventions into basically infomercials for the party where no important decisions were made. Democrats were afraid that important elected officials and party leaders would just skip the convention, thus lowering its prestige. So they invented the idea of super delegates to give them a role to play in the convention. Every living Democratic president and vice president is a superdelegate as well as every sitting Democratic Governor, Senator, and Congressman. A number of party officials are also super delegates. It is an undemocratic feature of the process but in practice it has meant little. Since the inception of superdelegates, every Democratic nominee has won the nomination with pledged delegates alone. The super delegates are just icing on the cake.
Now, on to the electoral college. You're right that it's very odd and that it's an undemocratic feature. It was meant to be an undemocratic feature. The founders were distrustful of democracy. They worried that the mass of people were too ignorant to make rational and well informed decisions. They feared that, instead, the people would be swayed by emotion, leaving them potentially open to picking a demagogic dictator. Their solution was the electoral college. Originally, most electors were not selected by the popular vote. In many cases the state legislature would appoint the electors. In the Founders' conception, these members of the electoral college would be made up of the best type of people: the most educated, most intelligent, and most virtuous. They would come together, deliberate among themselves, and choose the president. They were supposed to make a dispassionate and rational decisions. The electoral college's role is somewhat similar to how parliaments choose a prime minister. The major difference is that the electoral college was not a legislature. As part of the separation of powers, the Founders didn't want the legislature picking the executive. Instead the electoral college would assemble, pick a president and then disband until the next time they were needed.
This concept of the electoral college never really happened however. Almost immediately the US developed political parties. The electors quickly morphed from being rational actors making a dispassionate decision to partisan operatives who voted for whoever their party's candidate was. Over time the system became more democratic as the electors became selected by popular vote rather than state legislature.
The electoral college has stuck around for so long because it's in the Constitution. So it would require a constitutional amendment to repeal or revise it. And there are constituencies who like it. Since every state gets at least three electors regardless of population, small states get more than their fair share of influence in the presidential election because of the electoral college. Wyoming, for example, has less than 1/70th of the population of California, but because of the electoral college it has about 1/18th of the electoral votes as California. Small states would not be eager to give up that advantage.
And it's also true that pressure to get rid of it has been mostly theoretical so far. Throughout American history the electoral college has mostly worked well. The people chosen by the electoral college have almost always been the same people who got the most popular votes for president. Sometimes the electoral college has magnified the scope of someone's win, such as in 1980 when Ronald Reagan got barely 50% of the vote but got nearly 500 electoral college votes. The electoral college also distorts presidential politics by encouraging candidates to focus their attention on certain states and not others. But in terms of the overall result, the electoral college has usually been pretty good.
I think that's beginning to change. In 2000, George W Bush won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. But it had been over a century since anyone had done that and I think that most people regarded it as a fluke, a result of several weird circumstances including a bizarre set of situations in Florida and a biased Supreme Court decision. That idea seems to have been undermined by the 2016 election. For one thing, Clinton's win was much bigger. Gore had only gotten about half a million more votes nationwide than Bush did. Clinton got almost three million more votes than Trump did. It kind of boggles the mind that someone could get millions more votes but still lose the race. Perhaps more importantly this is the second time that this has happened in recent history. In the span of just 16 years we've seen two presidents, both from the same party, get elected despite losing the popular vote. That's not good and it suggests that there may be a real problem with the electoral college which is producing outcomes which aren't what the people want.
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- regeruggedLv 73 years ago
Yes, you are missing the reason for the electoral college. It was put in place to prevent a total imbalance in the electoral process. And it is part of the Constitution. Example. West coast states, New York and Mass are polluted with liberals. This relatively small group would control all presidential election outcomes. In primaries, parties decide their candidates. The parties can do anything they want to pick a candidate.
- Justin ThymeLv 73 years ago
It is to make sure that states with huge populations like California and New York dont decide who wins the Presidency.