James Madison soon changed his mind about having the legislature pick the presidency, perceiving an imbalance of power would occur if the executive existed at the pleasure of the legislative. James Wilson suggested that the president be chosen by “the people at large."
Small States vs Large States
Against popular election were the delegates from small states who realized that such an election based solely on popular vote would be dominated by large states. This debate was similar to the dispute regarding the number of representatives and senators, which was settled by having representatives based on population to accommodate the large states and two senators from each state regardless of population to accommodate the small states.
After all the delegates finally agreed to the need for a strong, independent executive, they still needed to focus on a way to achieve that independence while assuring that the president would be committed to the people and not just other branches of the government.
After as many as seven different proposals were considered and voted down, the prototype for the Electoral College, similar to what we still use, was put in place:
Each State shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of Electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress….The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by ballot for two persons…. [These votes shall be certified and sent to the seat of Government where they shall be opened and counted by the President of the Senate.] The person having the greatest number of votes shall be the President, if the number be a majority of the whole number of the Electors appointed; and if no person have a majority, then from the five highest on the list, the House shall choose the President. But in choosing the President, the representation from each state shall have one vote.Three lines of thinking were evident in the compromise that resulted from this hot debate:
1. Congress should not elect the president, because this would be a clear violation of separation of powers. 2. The smaller states’ concern was placated, because their delegates thought the new proposal would guarantee election by the House. 3. Popular vote could not placate the small state because of their fear of being overridden by the large states, and because of the difficultly of communication at that time, most people would not be able to know adequately the qualifications of candidates outside of their state.
Electoral College Today
Article Two, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States spells out the procedure for the election of the president: Each state is assigned its number of electors based on it number of representatives and senators; for example, Tennessee has eleven electoral votes, because it has nine representatives based of population and 2 senators, as each state does. California has 54 electoral votes, because it has 52 representatives and 2 senators.
After each political party has selected its nominee for president and vice-president, each party then selects a slate of electors. (The selecting process of these electors varies from state to state, some are selected they the state legislature other by the political parties.) The selection of electors is based on party loyalty; therefore, electors pledge to vote for their party’s candidate, even though they are not required to do so. There have been only four instances of electors not keeping their pledge to vote for their party’s candidate, and none of them influenced the outcome of the elections.
After the presidential election in November, the electors meet in their state capitals to cast their votes for president and vice-president. These ballots are then certified by state authorities and sent to Washington, where they are read by the president of the senate to both the house and senate meeting in combined session. At this point, the candidates become president-elect and vice-president-elect.
There have been many adjustments made to this Electoral College procedure since its inception at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. The rise of political parties and the improvement of communication are two factors figuring in those adjustments. The debate is not over. There are those who still call for election by popular vote. No doubt, the Electoral College will continue see changes in the future.
Article Two, Section 1 of the Constitution of the United States
The Electoral College