ERIC Number: EJ1110641
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2016
ISSN: ISSN-1933 8341
The Purpose, Structure and Limitations of the Electoral College
Webster, Gerald R.
Geography Teacher, v13 n3 p101-105 2016
The U.S. Constitution was drafted in Philadelphia from late May to mid-September 1787. The fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered to revise the Articles of Confederation but soon decided to write an entirely new document. These "Framers" were committed to forming a representative democracy, but their largely aristocratic views did not generally extend to broad support for direct democracy. While clearly the document was a much needed replacement for the Articles of Confederation, it also allowed for slavery; provided for state legislatures to select U.S. Senators; let the states define who could vote, resulting in an electorate of overwhelmingly white male property owners; and created the Electoral College, which rejected the direct election of the president of the United States (Kimberling n.d.; Dahl 2003). The 1787 debate over the process of selecting the country's chief executive was contentious. One idea was to have the Congress select the president, but this option was rejected for several reasons, including potential damage to the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government. A second option was to allow state legislatures to select the president. This possibility was rejected because it might create damage to the power of federal authority if the executive branch became dependent upon state legislatures. The direct election of the president was also considered, but there was insufficient support for its selection. As stated by Posner (2001, 31), "Most of the delegates held the aristocratic conception of the Presidency and were dubious about the capacity of the public at large … to pick the best candidate." There was also fear that the electorate would be unable to secure sufficient information due to high travel and communications costs to judge all of those running, leading many voters to cast ballots for local or regional candidates and parochialism. Another possible means of selection would "remove the choice of the President from the hands of popular majorities and to place the responsibility in the hands of a select body of wise, outstanding,and virtuous citizens" (Dahl 2003, 76). The outline of what became known as the Electoral College was developed by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 68 (Wright 1996). While there have been well over 700 unsuccessful bills proposing constitutional amendments to reform or replace the Electoral College, it is highly unlikely that the Electoral College will be significantly reformed in coming years in spite of majority public support.
Descriptors: Elections, Constitutional Law, United States History, Governmental Structure, Federal Government, Federal Legislation, Voting, Presidents
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
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