Understanding the Electoral College

Feb 14, 2023

by Eric Alderman

Since the 2000 election, when Americans were reminded of the importance of the Electoral College, Democratic politicians and full-time opinion givers have complained about the Electoral College’s existence, contending that it is a relic of the 18th century and a threat to our democracy. Those of us of a certain age know It used to be a trick question in civics or government class to ask who elects the President of the United States. The answer, of course, is the Electoral College.

The office of President is a powerful position in the United States government. The Constitution gives the President authority to enforce national laws passed by Congress and give distinct and specific voice and direction to American foreign policy. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the delegates were careful to create a format for electing a President that maintained the integrity of the states, and kept a couple of basic values in mind.

First, electing the president was grounded in the Revolution’s recognition that the people, their individual communities, and the states are the ultimate source of popular authority. The House of Representatives is based on district population; the Senate represents an entire state. Since the presidential election is national, it takes extra effort to make it somehow local in representation.

Second, the system to elect the president must be structured to allow the president to be independent from other sections of government or from one section of the country. Only then can he act with relative independence and with resolve and passion founded in national consensus. If a president is elected with a straight majority, California, Texas, Florida, and New York - the most populous states in the country – would likely have an unfair advantage on directing national public policy.

The process of electing the president must provide a national consensus, with careful consideration to not make one section of the nation left out or beholden to another section of the nation with whom they do not share common values. This is the tyranny of the majority. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention believed the process of electing a president was important. The founders established a complex system anchored in representative democracy. They established the Electoral College because it affirms the importance of the states as self-governing communities and helps secure their interests.

The founders knew that good decisions are more likely to be made when people take time to think, discuss, and deliberate with one another. Confining a presidential election to a simple formula of direct democracy would violate the founding principles of full state and local representation in the national government.

The Electoral College process demonstrates the Founders’ philosophy that authority should be diluted and distributed. To the extent that our political culture becomes dependent on polls, lobbyists, consultants, and technocrats, the closer therefore we come to single consolidated national power. This is what our founders feared.

The states and locals, closer to the people as they are, oversee those issues most immediately important in people’s lives: education, security, and protection of property – each of these necessary for the protection of individual liberty and the development of a common life. The Electoral College helps affirm the importance of the states as self-governing communities closest to the interests of the people. You can see this in the presidential election process – as national attention is focused on the states and their distinctive interests as campaigns move from state to state out of necessity, because of the Electoral College.

The Electoral College provides a way to fairly elect a national leader who represents the diverse interests and desires of the large nation the United States always has been.