What Is The History Of The Electoral College?

What is the electoral college, how was it determined, and how did it change the face of several presidential elections?

When the country was founded over 200 years ago, there was concern by the Founding Fathers that the voters weren't smart enough to make "proper" decisions when voting for the president. (Well, there was little trust allowing the people vote for their Senator, too, as senate seats were appointed by the individual state's leaders, a practice that continued until 1920.) Despite the fact that very few were given the right to vote in the earliest years -- only male landowners over the age of 21 could vote -- the Founding Fathers decided to write the Electoral College into the Constitution.

The Electoral College is made up of a group of people nominated by the state leadership -- it is not made up of Congressmen! -- who vote for the president. Currently, there are 525 electoral voters. This number equals the number of Congressional representatives and Senators. These are the men and women who elect the President of the United States.

The number of electoral votes a state has equals its total number of representatives and senators. No state can have less than three electoral votes. As a presidential campaign chugs along, there is much talk about swing states and "important" states. These are the states with a large number of electoral votes that can determine the outcome of an election. Technically, the candidate who receives the most votes in a state, even if it is only by one vote, all the electoral votes go to that winner. (Two states, Nebraska and Maine, have amended their constitutions to split the electoral votes -- the "Senate" votes go to the overall state winner, but the "congressional" votes will go to the winner of that district.)



It is possible that a president that is elected by the electoral college will not be the person elected by the popular, or citizen, vote. In fact, this has happened. Grover Cleveland, for example, lost his bid for re-election after his first term. He had won the popular election, but he lost the electoral college; therefore, Benjamin Harrison was officially elected president. Samuel Tilden also won the popular election in 1876, but the electoral college voters from Louisiana switched their votes (this was a fall-out from the Civil War, and all kinds of bargains were being made politically), giving Rutherford Hayes the election. More recently, what was one of the closest elections in history -- Kennedy versus Nixon in 1960 -- turned out to be a landslide for Kennedy in the electoral college. Kennedy won the "important" states.

Is the Electoral College necessary today? Probably not. When it was written into the Constitution, the sparse number of voters did not have access to information as we do today. The College was a way for those who "understood" politics and government to keep control. (No, the early leaders did not trust the people to make such an important decision; that was the bottom line.) However, only an amendment to the Constitution can eliminate the Electoral College, and that is doubtful. The positive of the College is that it shows how vital *every single vote* is. While it doesn't seem like an individual vote means much in a presidential election, one vote -- yes, ONE single vote -- can swing the electoral votes in a state. A state like California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida, or Ohio can determine an election.

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