This week the United States chose a President who did not receive the majority of the votes cast in the election. This is the second time this has happened in the past five Presidential elections. This result came about because the United States does not provide for the direct election of the President. Instead, the President is elected by the Electoral College.
The Electoral College designates that each state will have a number of Electors equal to the total number of Senators and Representatives to the House of Representatives. For example, my home state of Colorado has 7 Representatives and 2 Senators, which means it has 9 Electoral votes.
With the second of these occurrences in such a short time, the subject of the Electoral College has come up in recent days. The big argument that I am seeing used by those who are defending the system is that it keeps small states involved in the electoral process. Guaranteeing them a spot at the table. The problem is that this was not the intention of the system.
The purpose of the Electoral College is actually far more elitist than just ensuring that small states have their say. The purpose of the system was to make sure that the majority of people did not elect someone that was not worthy of being President. Fortunately, we do not have to guess to come to this conclusion. We have the words of one of the Framers available to us. In Federalist Paper 68 the writer (likely Alexander Hamilton) says:
It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.
That pretty much lays out the idea that the Electors would act as a filter for the actual voters. And that the body of the Electoral College would as a total filter in case a block of states wanted to act against the interests of the nation.
What the Electoral College was not intended to be was a check against the larger states controlling the government. That check already exists elsewhere, within the Senate and the House. The way those bodies are apportioned ensures that the small states will have their say in the government.
It is important to note that the President (and Vice President) are the only nationally elected offices in the government. The import being that while a member of Congress might represent their House district or State, the President represents the entire nation.
That is why the Electoral College is an archaic system that feels like it is subverting our democracy. When the majority of the voters choose one candidate, but due to geographical circumstances, a group of 200,000 voters can effectively block the votes of millions.
While a Constitutional Amendment eliminating the Electoral College would be the desired goal that has become an impractical solution given the size of our country. But there is a practical, workable solution out there. The National Popular Vote Bill can correct this problem. The essence of what it will do is this:
Under the compact, the winner would be the candidate who received the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) on Election Day. When the Electoral College meets in mid-December, the national popular vote winner would receive all of the electoral votes of the enacting states.
What this means that the Electors from the states would no longer follow a winner take all approach in each state. Instead, they would simply respect the votes of the majority of American voters. The President would truly represent the majority of the country, not the wishes of people in certain geographies.
I think this is the best option for making sure that we do not have a President whom a large portion of the populace dislikes, opposes or even fears. Because the President must be a national figure and represent the will of the national electorate, while Congress provides the check of the states wishes. That is the goal of the system.