The original purpose of the Electoral College is embodied the founders’ intentions and compromises.
The United States Constitution, finalized in 1787, established the Electoral College as a mechanism for selecting the President and Vice President.
The framers were maneuvering through a myriad of challenges, not least of which were concerns about direct democracy, regional disparities, and the balance of power between different branches of government.
Fear of Direct Democracy
One of the primary drivers behind the original purpose of the Electoral College was a mistrust of direct democracy.
Many of the framers were wary of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ and sought to create buffers against potential mob rule.
The Electoral College was seen as a means to ensure that more virtuous, informed individuals would have a say in the critical task of selecting the nation’s executive leaders.
Compromise Between Large and Small States
The framers also faced the challenge of appeasing both large and small states.
There was a concern that populous states would dominate the presidency if the election were solely based on the popular vote.
The Electoral College provided a compromise by giving each state electoral votes based on the sum of its Senators and Representatives, thus ensuring smaller states had a proportionally greater influence than they would under a direct popular vote system.
The design of the Electoral College also aimed at maintaining a balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, and among the states.
By allowing state legislatures to determine the manner of selecting electors, the system provided a decentralization of the electoral process, which was in line with the broader federalist principles embedded in the Constitution.
Slave States and the Three-Fifths Compromise
The Electoral College also had implications for slave-holding states.
The Three-Fifths Compromise, which counted slaves as three-fifths of a person for representation purposes, inflated the electoral power of these states.
This aspect of the Electoral College was part of the broader compromises made to secure southern states’ support for the Constitution.
The original purpose of the Electoral College is deeply rooted in the historical, political, and social context of the late 18th century.
Its establishment was a reflection of the founders’ attempt to balance various competing interests and values, including a mistrust of direct democracy, the need for compromise between large and small states, and the political realities of slavery.
Over time, the Electoral College has become a subject of debate and scrutiny, illustrating the evolving nature of democratic principles in the United States.