Portland State College. Department of Political Science
David A. Smeltzer
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.) in General Social Science
Electoral college -- United States, Presidents -- United States -- Election
1 online resource (118 pages)
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was greatly divided over the question of how to select the new nation's chief executive. The method finally adopted was a compromise between direct election and election by the national legislature and provided that individual states, as they saw fit, choose electors equal to the total number of Senators and Representatives. From the beginning, most of delegates considered the proposal awkward and irrational almost to the point of absurdity, but as they argued about it, they became convinced that it was then the only plan which could overcome the objections raised by other methods.
The Convention had barely adjourned, however, when dissatisfaction over election of the President arose once again. Reform efforts began in the earliest Congresses. In the past one hundred and eighty years, more than 1000 amendments—perhaps more than on any other subject—have been introduced. These may be divided into two distinct classifications—direct and indirect methods of election. These may be divided into two distinct classifications—direct and indirect methods of election.
From the district system proposed in the early 19th century to the proportional system advanced most prominently after World War II, each of the direct proposals has had its day and has been found wanting. It has become clear that other indirect methods of election would merely turn in some old problems for some new ones.
The present system, however, is in serious need of reform. Its dangers are well documented. Failure of electors to vote in accordance with the desires of the voters and the present allocation of electoral votes makes it possible that under the present system a President can be elected who is not the choice of a majority of the citizens. Furthermore, the present system provides for an election in the House of Representatives if no candidate received the necessary 270 electoral votes. In a House election, each state casts one vote regardless of population. In view of these factors, the electoral college is an undemocratic institution, an historic remnant of a nation vastly different from the United States in the twentieth century.
Through this nation's years of development, the ideal of popular choice has become the most deeply ingrained of our governmental principles. Through our national experience we have learned that there is no safer or better way to elect our public officials. No matter how wisely or foolishly the American people choose their President, he is still their President. The electoral college should therefore be amended to insure that the chief executive is the voice of all 200 million Americans in practice as well as in theory. Only one type of proposed reform can claim to give the people this voice without creating other problems in the election of the President. It is the direct popular vote proposal under which each citizen's vote regardless of where it is cast, would count equally with all other votes. The candidate receiving a majority or plurality, as decided by Congress, would be the new President. A run-off election would replace election by the House of Representatives if no candidate received the specified number of votes. No one, of course, can guarantee that direct election would never involve risks in the election of the President, but if one's premise is based upon an overriding consideration of democracy, the risk seems worth taking.
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Williams, Norma N., "An Analysis and Evaluation of the American Electoral College" (1968). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 583.
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