Many today want to get rid of the electoral college method of choosing our president. For example, there is a book called Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America. It has quite a lot of good information in it, though the author draws the wrong conclusion. Or search Google for “electoral college failure” and browse through some of the 333,000 results. Attacks on the electoral college system accelerated after the 2000 election in which Al Gore won more popular votes but George Bush won the electoral college. The Founding Fathers considered, debated, and voted on different methods of choosing a president during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 before choosing the one they thought best.
Deciding how to select or elect the president was one of the most difficult decisions the Founding Fathers had to make during the Convention. They held at least sixteen votes on this one issue. The options they considered included selection by state legislators, selection by the national legislature, and an electoral system. They even considered direct election of the president, as many today propose, but rejected that idea. It was brought up for a vote twice at the Convention and was rejected by a 9-1 vote on July 17 and by a 9-2 vote on August 24 (each state got one vote). [Edwards, “Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America” 79. http://goo.gl/WPoBn]
The Founders framed the Constitution so that each public official was selected by a different method. Representatives are democratically elected by their districts. Up until 1913, senators were chosen by the state legislatures. Today, senators are democratically elected by whole states. Supreme court justices are chosen by the president and confirmed by the Senate. They serve for life and thus are the most independent of public opinion. Representatives, up for reelection every two years, are most dependent on public opinion; senators serving six years are somewhat dependent on the public, but less so than representatives who run for reelection more often and have a smaller constituency. Last, the president is chosen for a four-year term through the electoral college system. Though the specific methodology of the electoral college has changed through the years, most notably after the 1800 election, it has always been an indirect method of choosing our president.
Thus, we have four different methods of choosing our public officials, and each public official serves for a different length of time. This makes it virtually impossible for any party, faction, region, or socio-economic group to gain power throughout government. Exactly what our Founding Fathers intended.
Over the last hundred years, the United States has become more democratic. States and local governments added ballot propositions, giving the people a means of bypassing the legislature and governor to pass veto-proof legislation with a simple majority. The Seventeenth Amendment provided for direct election of senators. Originally, state legislatures selected the members of the electoral college; now the people of each state vote on which candidate each state’s electors will choose. Political parties used to choose their nominees, but states started moving to primary elections about 100 years ago (Oregon was the first to have a presidential preference primary in 1910). Now, the people instead of the parties choose their nominees. The people’s opinion gained even more strength with the advent of modern polling,
Not all these moves toward democracy are bad. Many, if not most, would argue that allowing the people to choose a party’s nominee is better than having party bosses do so. But overall, the trend toward democracy has weakened the systems of checks and balances our Founders established. The Founders were very wary of democracy and rightly so. As James Madison explains in Federalist No. 10:
Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.
Moving to a direct election of president would be another step toward democracy, another breakdown in our system of checks and balances. The Founding Fathers considered direct election of presidents and twice rejected it by large margins. The Founders set up our delicate system of choosing elected officials, including the electoral college, after much study and debate with full knowledge of its strengths and weaknesses. And with only minor modifications over the past 220 years, this system has served the nation extremely well. I, for one, support our system of checks and balances and even propose returning to the system our Founders created by, for example, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment. But for those who propose further “improvements,” they should only be made with great consideration and caution, much hesitancy, and by Constitutional amendment only.