The Electoral College was established in the U.S. Constitution. It's a formal body which elects the President and Vice President of the United States.

  • Each state has a certain number of "electors" in the Electoral College.

  • The number of seats in congress (Representatives and Senators) held by each state is the number of electors which the state has in the Electoral College.

  • When U.S. citizens vote in a presidential election, they are actually voting for the electors from their state to cast their ballots for a certain candidate in the Electoral College.

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History Of The Electoral College

One of the issues debated by delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention was how to elect the president.

At this time, there was no other country in the world that directly elected its chief executive. Additionally, the U.S. had recently gained independence from a tyrannical king. Thus, there was generally a deep distrust of executive power.

Some argued that Congress should pick the president, while others insisted on a democratic popular vote.

Argument against Congress picking the President

  • Too much opportunity for corruption between the legislative and executive branches

Arguments against citizens electing the president by a straight popular vote

  • Voters, especially those in rural communities, lacked the resources to be fully informed about candidates

  • The delegates feared an unyielding "democratic mob" steering the country astray

  • A populist president could secure dangerous amounts of power

After much debate, their compromise was based on the idea of electoral intermediaries , who were neither picked by Congress nor elected by the people.

States would appoint independent "electors" to cast the actual ballots for the presidency. Thus, the Electoral College was born.

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How The Electoral College Works

Quiz

Suppose Arizona has 10 Electoral College votes and 60% of the population votes for candidate A, and 40% votes for candidate B. How many of Arizona's electoral votes will go to candidate A?

10

4

5

6

Summary

Do you think the Electoral College is the system of voting that should still be used to determine the President of the United States?

What are the pros and cons of the Electoral College?

If you were to restructure the U.S. voting system, what would it look like?

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This Byte has been authored by

TT

Tressa Thompson

Graduate Student in International Education at New York University