The Constitution’s electoral college process is pretty bizarre to say the least. Many people believe that it was put in place to ensure that small states, like Delaware, had a voice in Presidential elections. I think that that explanation is wrong. The electoral college was put in place to ensure that southern, slave states could determine the President. Legal voters in the slave States got extra votes by counting non-voting slaves as 3/5′s of a person giving each southern slave state more US Representatives, and as a result, more electoral votes (The number of electoral votes per State is set by adding together the State’s number of US Representatives and Senators).
Other than a couple of Adams Presidencies (both of whom served only 1 term), all of the first Presidents came from the South (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe – all of whom served for two terms). As the population grew in the western territories, the South eventually lost its lock on the Presidency through the election of Andrew Jackson, who served two terms (although Jackson was not, technically, southern, he grew up in the Carolina’s, was military Governor of Florida, and was elected to the Presidency from Tennessee). Martin Van Buren, who followed Jackson, continued Jackson’s policies for the most part having served as Jackson’s Vice President. Van Buren was, therefore, acceptable to the South and served for two terms.
So 12 of the first 14 Presidential terms were held by Presidents viewed favorably by the southern slave-holding States.
So, while the electoral college doesn’t advance small state interests in any significant way, it does require that candidates balance their positions between urban, suburban, and rural interests by focusing elections towards an entire State rather than a narrow special interest. To win the Presidency, you must win at least 3 of the 5 most populous States: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Texas, or California. Each of these States has significant differences in issues facing their large urban centers and their rural farming communities. If you eliminate the electoral college, Presidential candidates will no longer need to campaign in any rural setting, and probably can bypass most suburban settings as well. By simply campaigning in large cities, and buying significant media (aka television), candidates will win by targeting their message to a list of narrow special interests. That would be a major change in how elections are held today, and the law of unintended consequences would loom very large, indeed.
After 225 years, perhaps a debate on changing the electoral college is called for. Let’s have that debate the way the Constitution stipulated – through a Constitutional Amendment — not some cheap, ill-prepared stunt.
Delaware’s House Bill 198 (found here), which would bypass Delaware’s participation in the electoral college, is a really bad idea. The sponsors of the bill are: Rep. Dennis E. Williams and Sen. Michael Katz. The Caesar Rodney Institute recently put out an email blast with some additional reasons that the bill is wrong for Delaware:
- A President can be elected by ANY plurality: 15, 20 or 25 percent of the vote is enough. NPV does not provide for run-offs, nor does it require candidates to meet a certain threshold.
- The margin between two candidates could be very close, yet Delaware could find itself unable to participate in a recount.
- Delaware could be forced to award its 3 electors to a presidential candidate who was not on our ballot.
- Other states might use recount standards that differ from Delaware’s. They might thus cause election totals to tilt in favor of their candidate, as opposed to Delaware’s
- Delaware could be forced to award its 3 electors to a candidate who was overwhelmingly rejected by Delaware voters.