The Electoral College: Then and Now

Today’s guest post comes from Miriam Vincent, staff attorney at the Federal Register.

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. However, the term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.” —from the Electoral College website run by the Office of the Federal Register

Why do we have the Electoral College? There was a concern that even qualified citizens (generally white, male landowners) wouldn’t have the information necessary to make a truly informed decision. Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of an Electoral College in Federalist Paper No. 68, with an opposing view coming from an anonymous source in Federalist Paper No. 72. (You can find both online.) Our Founding Fathers decided to give the States the authority to appoint educated, well-read electors to vote on behalf of their citizens.

As the Constitution makes clear, the States elect the President and Vice President; individuals don’t.

Tally of the 1824 Electoral College Vote, 02/09/1825 (ARC 306207)

The Modern Day Electoral College: After only a few years, it became clear that electing a President and Vice President from different political parties didn’t work as well in practice as it did in theory. In 1804, the 12th Amendment was ratified, which meant that the second-place Presidential finisher didn’t end up as the Vice President.

The states also decided to select electors based on the popular vote of the state’s residents and not based on what its legislature wanted. So, we now elect the electors, and they vote for President and for Vice President. Remember, your vote matters when it comes to choosing the electors from your state. And, almost all electors have voted for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates they were supposed to.

Ohio Certificate of Ascertainment
The Ohio Certificate of Ascertainment from the 2008 election (Office of the Federal Register)
Ohio Certificate of Vote from the 2008 election
Ohio Certificate of Vote from the 2008 election (Office of the Federal Register)

You can learn more about the Electoral College by visiting our website. We have a new video (embedded below) that explains how the votes actually get counted.

Later this month we’ll have interactive and historical Electoral College maps. After the general election on November 6, we’ll post the actual Certificates of Ascertainment and Vote after we get them from the states.

You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@ElectoralCollge) for the latest updates.

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