So, where did the Electoral College come from, anyway?

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United StatesScene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Painting by Howard Chandler Christy

The men who wrote the Constitution created the Electoral College for two main reasons. The first was a concern over mob rule. In the years leading up to the Constitutional Convention, they had seen a number of instances where politicians catering to public opinion had broken the law. The Founders felt that having a small, well-informed group validate the election would prevent such abuses. Since the Electors only met once every four years, and no one would know who they were until shortly before the election, it was unlikely they could be manipulated by political parties or foreign governments.

It is worth remembering that the Founders considered the presidency to be a somewhat minor office—sort of a chief administrator, but not the powerful position it has since become. In their view, the real power was held by the legislature, and the president merely carried out the laws that Congress passed.

The second reason for the Electoral College was to satisfy the smaller states, who were afraid they would have no voice in the new federal government. This is also the reason why we have both a Senate and a House of Representatives. In the House, bigger states have more representatives. In the Senate, all states are equal, regardless of size. The Electoral College combines these two into a single body, again guaranteeing that the small states will have a voice.

The unintended consequence of this is that all citizens, whether they live in big states or small states, end up with a stronger voice under the Electoral College than with a direct election.

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