FM; As for your comments of my youthfulness, I appreciate it but I'm 42. As for my historical perspective, I was speaking of trhe changes made in
1804 that formed the EC as we know it today. It has existed since the framers of the constitution created it but it has since been changed by the
12th Amendment to its current disfunctionality. Heres what I found with the help of Google.
The framers of the Constitution regarded the electoral college as part of a procedure for electing the president by the people, at least indirectly.
It seemed probable to the framers that the system of electors voting by ballot in the states would ordinarily serve also as a nominating device, with
the final election frequently left to the House.
Before the adoption of the 12th Amendment in 1804, the electors voted for two persons without distinguishing between a vote for president and vice
president. The highest number of votes, if a majority, elected a president. If two persons were tied for first place, the House, voting by states,
chose between them. If there was no majority, the House was required to choose among the five highest. After the choice of a president, the highest
remaining electoral vote determined the vice president, the Senate being authorized to make a selection in case of a tie.
This unworkable system was altered by the 12th Amendment because of defects demonstrated in the election of 1800, when Thomas JEFFERSON and Aaron
BURR, nominees of the Democratic Republican party, each received a majority, with exactly the same electoral vote (73). Despite Jefferson's
designation as the party's presidential candidate, it was not until the 36th ballot in the House that Federalist party opposition was overcome and
Jefferson was chosen over Burr.
In the early years of the electoral college system, several state legislatures chose electors without a popular vote. After 1828 only South Carolina
continued this practice, abandoning it after the Civil War. Electors were chosen by the legislature in Florida in 1868 and in Colorado in 1876.
Before 1828 a number of states permitted voter choice of electors by districts. Michigan utilized this method for the election of 1892. Maine, since
1969, and Nebraska, since 1988, have reintroduced variations of this system, but most states now give all their electoral votes to the candidate with
a plurality of the popular vote.
When the names of electors are chosen individually by the voters, the electoral vote of the state may be split, as in 1916 when West Virginia gave
seven votes to Charles Evans Hughes and one to Woodrow WILSON. Many states, however, utilize the presidential short ballot, so that the voter makes
only one choice for all electors pledged to a given presidential candidate.
The 23d Amendment, adopted in 1961, which enfranchised residents of the District of Columbia for presidential elections, provided that the District
choose electors equal to the number it would be entitled to if it were a state, but not more than the least populous state.
Weaknesses of the System
The electoral college system generally gives all of a state's electoral votes to the winner in that state, no matter how slim the margin. Thus it has
happened that candidates have been elected even though they received fewer popular votes than their opponents. Both Rutherford B. HAYES, in 1876, and
Benjamin HARRISON, in 1888, were elected in this manner. In the case of Hayes, a special electoral commission was called in 1877 to decide the
John Quincy ADAMS also received fewer popular votes than his opponent, Andrew JACKSON, in the election of 1824, but his election was decided by the
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES because Jackson failed to win a majority of electoral college votes. On several occasions the popular vote pluralities of the
electoral college victors have been razor thin or even questionable. One instance was the election of John F. KENNEDY over Richard M. NIXON in
The feature of the electoral college most prone to attack is the requirement that the election go into the House of Representatives to determine the
president and into the SENATE to determine the vice president if the electoral college fails to reach a majority. There might be a paralyzing delay in
determining the victors, and the president-elect and vice president-elect could be members of opposing political parties.
The House was called upon to elect a president in the cases of Jefferson and John Quincy Adams, and the Senate chose Richard M. JOHNSON as vice
president after the election of 1836. The possibility of this happening again remains very much alive. Should a third-party candidate carry enough
states to prevent an electoral vote majority for any candidate, the House, voting by state delegation, might be prevented from reaching an absolute
Pledged electors generally have been regarded as legally free to cast their votes as they choose, and there have been cases of defection from pledged
positions. No such deviation has had a clear effect on an election result, but the possibility raises an additional objection to the electoral
college. In 1820 a New Hampshire elector voted for John Quincy Adams instead of James MONROE; in 1956 an Alabama elector voted for a circuit judge
instead of Adlai E. Stevenson; in 1960 an Oklahoma elector pledged to Richard Nixon voted instead for Harry F. Byrd; in 1968 a North Carolina elector
defected from Nixon to George C. Wallace; and in 1988 a West Virginia elector voted for Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr. instead of Michael S. Dukakis.
Major proposals debated for change in the electoral college have been: (1) substitution of direct popular vote for the president; (2) choice of
electors by districts; (3) elimination of electors as individuals, but retention of the electoral college principle, perhaps with an arrangement to
distribute a state's votes in proportion to voter support of candidates. Many fear that any change would threaten the two-party system.
The appeal of a popular election is checked by the practical difficulty of achieving it by constitutional amendment. Congressmen and state legislators
from small states usually favor retention of the electoral college, reasoning that the college, which includes two votes for each state's two
senators, tends to increase the relative weight of the small states.
The district proposal is based on recognition of geographical divisions within a state. It would also reduce the political dominance of the large
industrial states by splitting their electoral votes between the candidates. This proposal has been objected to, however, as a crude substitute for
more accurate apportionment.
Distribution of electoral votes in proportion to voter support of candidates has occasioned the sharpest controversy. It would eliminate many present
inequities of the all-or-none allocation of at-large electoral votes, but it might weaken the two-party system. Candidates of minor parties having no
chance to win a state's votes under the all-or-nothing principle might enter the race to win fractions of the apportioned vote.
--Franklin L. Burdette
Director, Bureau of Governmental Research, University of Maryland