The United States Electoral College

Updated on November 15, 2016

The Signing of the Constitution

%3AScene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States.jpg Howard Chandler Christy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
%3AScene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States.jpg Howard Chandler Christy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

With the Electoral College system for electing the United States president winning the most popular votes is not a guarantee a candidate will become president. They must also get 270 Electoral College votes to win. A candidate can become president if he gets at least 270 Electoral College votes and does not have the most popular votes. Many people do not like the Electoral college system for this reason. They feel the person with the most popular votes should win.

Unfortunately for them, the Founding Fathers did not have much faith in the American people selecting the President. They believed the American people's political knowledge was limited so they were not qualified to elect their President.

At a meeting of the Constitution Convention held on July 17, 1787, Delegate Mason stated “A popular election, in this case, is radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put it in the power of some one set of men dispersed the candidates.” At the same convention on July 19, 1787, Delegate Gerry stated that “The people are uninformed and would be misled by a few designing men.”

The Founding Fathers

John Trumbull [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
John Trumbull [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The Founding Fathers were afraid if they gave unlimited power to elect the president to some politically uninformed people it could lead to a tyranny of the majority. To keep this from happening, they formed the Electoral College system that would be used to elect the president. They felt the Electoral College system would keep the election of the president from the politically uneducated whims of the people.

The founding fathers wanted to enforce the idea of federalism which is the division and sharing of powers between the federal and state governments. They believed the Electoral College system would do this.

Democracy and the Electoral College

People who do not believe in the Electoral College system say it interferes with democracy. The United States is supposed to be a democracy so the people should be able to elect the president, not the Electoral College.

There are two types of democracy that are recognized. They are “Pure or direct Democracy” and “Representative Democracy.”

In “Pure or Direct Democracy” decisions will be made by a majority vote of all the people who are eligible to vote. The people can vote to pass laws, elect and remove their leaders. The people have an unlimited power to control all aspects of their government.

In “Representative Democracy the people elect representatives that they rule through. The people elect these representative periodically so that they will stay accountable. The people do not have full power to control their government because it is limited by the actions of their elected representative.

The United States operates under a Republican type of government. It is a Representative Democracy. Every state will have a Republican form of government, which is guaranteed. This is not the same as the Republican Political Party.

United States as a Republic

In 1787 The Founding Fathers believed that when the people had the unlimited power it would often become a tyrannical power. They decided the United States would do better as a republic and not a pure democracy.

The Founding Fathers all agreed that the people or an agent o;f the government should not have unlimited power. They're highest priority was to achieve a separation of powers.

The Founding Fathers wanted to separate authority and power. The developed the Electoral College system because they felt it would allow the people to elect their president and the Electoral College would prevent some of the dangers of a direct election.

The Electoral College system has worked for over 200 years. This does not mean it should never be changed or done away with. Doing away with the Electoral College system is easier said than done.

First, the people fear about the Electoral College system must be real. The candidate must lose the popular vote ,but be elected by the Electoral College system. In the nation's history, this has happened three times counting the 2000 election for president.

Rutherford B. Hayes

Daniel Huntington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Daniel Huntington [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

In 1876 Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, had 4,036,298 popular votes and 185 electorate votes. Samuel J. Tilden, a democrat, was his nearest opponent had 4,300,590 votes and 184 electorate votes. Hayes became the president.

Benjamin Harris

Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

In 1888 Benjamin Harrison, a republican, had 5,439,853 popular votes and 233 electoral votes. Grover Cleveland, a democrat, his opponent had 5,540,308 popular votes and 188 electoral votes. Harrison won the election.

George W. Bush

By White house photo by Eric Draper. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By White house photo by Eric Draper. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

The 2000 George W. Bush, a Republican, had 50,456,060 popular votes and Al Gore, a Democrat, had 50,991,582 popular votes. Florida was recounting their votes. The United States Supreme Court stopped the recounting of the Florida votes. The state of Florida's 25 Electoral votes was given to Bush and this gave him 271 Electoral votes to Gore's 266 Electoral votes. Bush won the election.

2012 Electoral Map

By Ambi Valent (Based on File:Proposed Electoral College 2012.svg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Ambi Valent (Based on File:Proposed Electoral College 2012.svg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons | Source

Before the Electoral College system can be blamed the presidential candidate that loses the popular vote but wins because he has the most electoral votes must be an unsuccessful and unpopular president.

The last thing is that there must be a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and it must also be ratified by three-fourths of the states. Even if all these things were to happen the Electoral College still would not be repealed or changed.

It is unlikely that the Republicans or the Democrats would have a strong majority of seats in Congress. A constitutional amendment needs a two-thirds vote of both houses so there must be a strong bi-partisan support. A constitutional amendment cannot be vetoed by the president.

Before a constitutional amendment can be ratified and become effective it must be approved by 39 out of the 50 state legislatures. The Electoral College is designed to give the states the power to elect the United States President. It is very unlikely that 39 states will vote to give up the power to elect the president. The votes are set up in the Electoral College system where 12 states now control 53 percent of the Electoral College system votes. This only leaves 38 states that have 47 percent of the votes that might consider ratification.

The Electoral College system has been around for over 200 years and there have been two times the electors were not able to choose the president and it has gone to the House of Representatives.

The first time was in the election of 1800. At that time the candidate that received the most electoral votes became president and the candidate that was second becoming vice-president. In the election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson had 73 electoral votes and Raymond Burr had 73 electoral votes. The decision went to the House of Representative. They nominated Thomas Jefferson as President and Raymond Burr as the Vice-President.

The second time was the election of 1824. The decision went to the House of Representative. The decided in February 1825 to elect John Quincy Adams president.

The Electoral college system is not perfect, but it seems to work at this time.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Nice summation of a confusing portion of the Constitution. I'm not the biggest fan of the electoral college, but I'm a huge fan of the Constitution, so I'm willing to overlook my dislike and support it.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks for your comment kbdressman. Many people do not know what the electoral college or its purpose. Before CA told me I had to get a new truck we used to haul freight from CA to UT and ID. Hope you will like NY as it is different.

    • kbdressman profile image


      3 years ago from Harlem, New York

      This is a brilliantly explained hub on a topic so few people understand! I recently moved to New York from Utah, or in other words, from one of the reddest states in the union to one of the bluest. I'm in medical school, so I'm surrounded by many smart people. However, the idea that there are good Republicans who voted for Donald Trump is completely foreign to them because they don't understand the thought process my Utah friends went through or the issues they are facing that shaped their decision. If we went by popular vote, Utahn's vote would have no value because there are so many more New York votes. Issues facing Utahn's would be entirely ignored. It's not a perfect system, but it definitely requires that every state gets a say, and that's important!

    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks for your comment.

    • profile image

      Suhail and my dog K2 

      3 years ago

      Great knowledge and information here. I learned a few things. My only question is whether or not electoral college actually translates into representatives in the form of people going to the parliament or is it a theoretical concept?

    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thank you Alternative Prime. I thought Hillary won popular vote but was told Trump did. Have not been able to find out for sure.

    • norlawrence profile imageAUTHOR

      Norma Lawrence 

      3 years ago from California

      Thank you for your comment Old Poolman. Our founding fathers are probably rolling over in their grave or maybe patting themselves on the back because they were right. I guess Soros and a few others are planning on stopping anything Trump tries to do in his first 100 days.

    • Alternative Prime profile image

      Alternative Prime 

      3 years ago from > California

      Nice Article ~ A Brief COMMENT if I may ~

      "WE the PEOPLE" as a Collective Society are usually "Pragmatic, Intuitive & CORRECT" & Hillary WON the Majority VOTE ~ Case in POINT ~ George W Bush LOST the Majority VOTE & YES, his Presidency was a DISASTER ~

      The 2016 Presidential VOTE ELECTION will Conclude with Hillary WINING the Majority ~ There are NO Laws Preventing a Elector to VOTE his / Her conscience on December 19, 2016 & Considering the DIRE Circumstances we face with a Trump Presidency, the "Electoral COLLEGE" has a very Difficult Decision to make ~

      Will they "AFFIRM" the Current FLAWED Result, or will some or ALL Electors RESPECT the WILL of "WE the PEOPLE" by Rejecting the most RADICALLY Unfit Candidate this GREAT Country has ever had to endure by ELECTING Hillary ~ "WE the PEOPLE" are Petitioning the "Electoral COLLEGE" ~

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      3 years ago

      Very interesting and informative. I learned a few things from this very well researched and written hub.

      It seems those who's candidate won are in favor of the Electoral College, while those who's candidate lost would prefer popular vote. That of course is how human nature works.

      After reading your hub I can see exactly why our founding fathers felt the Electoral College was needed. They were indeed some wise men.


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