The original idea of the Electoral College (Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution) was that Americans would not choose a President ourselves, but instead choose the leading citizens from our communities, and delegate the decision to them.
This idea lasted through precisely one administration, that of George Washington. From then on we had political parties and electors pledged to particular candidates—precisely what the Founders hoped to avoid. This reality was reflected in the Twelfth Amendment.
Now certain opponents of Donald Trump, who claim to be followers of Alexander Hamilton, say that electors should ignore their pledges and exercise independent judgment. This is a terrible idea.
I would be perfectly happy to delegate decision-making to someone I considered to be wise and good, but that is not what I did when I voted in the recent presidential election. Most American voters don’t know the names of the electors they voted for. I don’t. If you do, you’re a rare exception.
I don’t think most Americans who voted for Donald Trump (or, for that matter, for Hillary Clinton) would be willing to see their decisions over-ridden by people they’d never heard of. This is very different from the original idea of the Electoral College. I think that Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders would think so, too.
The other issue concerning the Electoral College system is that the electoral vote does not always reflect the popular vote.
If I were a delegate to a 21s century Constitutional convention, I would advocate electing the President by popular vote. But the Founders had a different conception than many Americans of today.
They set up a Constitutional system based on state sovereignty, not popular sovereignty. That’s why the one provision of the Constitution that can’t be amended is the one specifying every state is entitled to two Senators (Article I, Section 3; Article V).
The Electoral College weighs representation in favor of small states, since every state gets one electoral vote for each congressional representative plus two for its senators. But even if every state had equal representation in the Electoral College, there still would be a possibility of winning the nationwide popular vote and losing the electoral vote.
Without these provisions to ensure that the individual states’ interests were protected, the original 13 states might not have come together and formed a nation. The Electoral College is the price we 21st century Americans pay for having a United States of America.
The Democratic and Republican parties have accepted this system as long as the two parties have been in existence—at least they did prior to Nov. 8, 2016. I think American voters and electors had enough information to make an informed decision on what kind of president Donald Trump would turn out to be. I don’t think anything has changed since Nov. 8 except the unexpected result.
The Electoral College: A Civics Lesson by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.
How to Delegitimize a President by Peter Van Buren for The American Conservative.