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The Triad by JVL

Everything We Like About the Electoral College Is a Result of Its Corruption

July 30, 2019
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Good times. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

1. More on the EC

After Friday’s edition, I got a note from reader William Cinfici, who wanted to expand on the EC:

I appreciate your defense of the Electoral College.  I just want to note, as a historian, that your points are true, like many other defenses of the EC, not because of how the Framers intended it, but in a practical way because of how the EC has been corrupted by major political parties through state legislation that has fundamentally changed the way the body is elected and how it carries out its role.

You are on the right track that the EC mediates popular intent, but it is more accurate to note that the EC was created to avoid a popular election for President and Vice President entirely than to mediate the popular vote.  Electors could be either appointed by State Legislatures or elected, which in the early Republic meant elected in their own right (and not in the name of a presidential and vice presidential ticket), without campaigning for themselves and without even their names appearing on ballots. The EC only effectively mediates the popular vote it because of how Electors are now chosen and how presidential campaigns, which the Framers never imagined (no one campaigned for President until 1840!), are conducted.  The EC was thus transformed by parties as a bulwark against populism and demagoguery to a potential vehicle for populism and demagoguery.

You are also right that the EC promotes majoritarian rule through the two-party system, versus the dangers of multi-party systems, but only, again, because of how the EC has been corrupted in terms of the selection of Electors and through winner-take-all state laws and laws encouraging or even requiring Electors to vote for the nominees of the party whose slate of Electors attracts the most votes.  Electors were intended to be free to exercise their best judgment to vote for whomever they thought would be most fit, regardless of party, the dominance of which the Framers did not intend.  The majoritarian aspect of the EC that the Framers did intend was that the President be supported by a broad base, meaning not by only large States or by only one region.  The fundamental aspect of the EC is that it is a representative body that effectuates the election of the President (the officer who presides over the Union of the States) and Vice President by the States themselves through the Electors who represent them.