The Electoral College & The Federalist Papers

by Mary Rohweder

Widener University Political Science Major

The Electoral College should be retained due the successful fulfillment of its original goal – creating a barrier in the event that the popular vote should cast a man unsuited for the role of President into office. The Electoral College exists, according to the Federalist Papers, in order to account for the opportunity of the tyranny of the majority or factions to select a President that may be unfit to hold office. The members of the Electoral College are entrusted with the responsibility of choosing the President and members are chosen by the people of the states per presidential election. Members are well-educated about the candidates as well as the American political structure, thus removing them from bias and ensuring that a president is chosen, according to Hamilton, “by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.” General citizens are certainly well advanced in literacy and political knowledge since the days of the Federalist Party. However, the Electoral College rarely opposes the popular vote – but when it does, the opposition is executed in wise conscience based upon the Federalist’s intentions. The President has the capacity to leave a significant historical impact, even in the term of four years. A politician who is highly popular at the moment may not make the best candidate for the full term, and so the Electoral College considers such with greater reverence. The Electoral College serves as a successful method of checks and balances for voters during the Presidential election.

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One thought on “The Electoral College & The Federalist Papers

  1. The Electoral College does NOT serve as a successful method of checks and balances for voters during the Presidential election.

    the Electoral College does not act as a buffer and damper against popular passions—and never did.

    It is true that the Founding Fathers intended that the Electoral College would provide a buffer against the will of the people. They anticipated that the Electoral College would consist of “wise men” who would deliberate on the choice of the President and “judiciously” select the best candidate for the office. However, the vision of the Founding Fathers was never realized in practice because the Founders did not anticipate the emergence of political parties.

    In the nation’s first two presidential elections (1789 and 1792), the Electoral College did not act as a buffer against popular passions but, instead, acceded to the nationwide consensus that George Washington should be the President.

    As soon as George Washington announced that he would not run for a third term in 1796, political parties emerged. The competition for power was between two opposing groups holding two very different visions about how the country should be governed.

    In 1796, both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist parties nominated their presidential and vice-presidential candidates at a national meeting composed of the party’s members of Congress. As soon as there were national nominees, both parties presented the public with candidates for the position of presidential elector who made it known that they intended to act as willing “rubberstamps” for the nominees of their respective political parties when the Electoral College met. In 1796, all but one of the presidential electors then dutifully voted as expected when the Electoral College met. Moreover, that election established the expectation that presidential electors should “act”—and not “think.”

    The U.S. Supreme Court noted this history in its opinion in the 1892 case of McPherson v. Blacker:
    “Doubtless it was supposed that the electors would exercise a reasonable independence and fair judgment in the selection of the chief executive, but experience soon demonstrated that, whether chosen by the legislatures or by popular suffrage on general ticket or in districts, they were so chosen simply to register the will of the appointing power in respect of a particular candidate. In relation, then, to the independence of the electors, the original expectation may be said to have been frustrated.”

    Thus, as early as the nation’s first competitive presidential election in 1796, the principle was established that the Electoral College would act as a rubberstamp for the “the will of the appointing power.” Since then, the Electoral College has reliably elected the nominees determined by extra-constitutional bodies (namely the nominating meetings of political parties).

    In reality, the Electoral College has never acted as a buffer or damper against popular passions.

    There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector’s own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

    If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state’s dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party’s dedicated activists.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld state laws guaranteeing faithful voting by presidential electors (because the states have plenary power over presidential electors).

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