What's the Electoral College for if it's not to keep a guy like Trump out of the presidency?

My understanding of the Electoral College is that it’s supposed to function as an election of last resort – to protect the public from it’s own poor choice of electing an unqualified (EVIL, if you will) candidate. The Electors can override the results of a national election for this very reason.

We can argue all day about whether Trump personally is so substandard, but if an Elector believes he is, isn’t it that Elector’s duty to vote for someone else?

Surely if Electors believe that Trump is the worst possible candidate and vote for him anyway, they have undermined the very reason for their own existence.

Electors are not supposed to “override” anything. The original intent of the Electoral College is that we voters actually know who the candidates for being electors are, and vote for an elector whose judgement we trust to eventually choose a president. I have no idea just when it morphed into the modern concept of unknown (to the voters) electors pledged to a presidential candidate based on the total vote of the state, but if you want to know what it was created for, it wasn’t that.

As much as I think it’s an unnecessary anachronism, and as much as the idea of President Trump disturbs me, I’d really hate for people who the voters know nothing about overriding the decision that the voters clearly made at the polls (in the way that counts - yes, I know Hillary won the popular vote).

“Supposed to” was an incorrect term on my part, but they clearly have the power. And did YOU ever vote for an elector? Do you know who your electors are? I don’t.

Well, the idea that they were supposed to prevent a “guy like Trump” from being elected is an opinion, not a fact. They were supposed to be a check on the possible election of someone dangerous, but that’s up to them to decide. I don’t like Trump, but I’m not entirely convinced he’s dangerous enough that I want to invoke the nuclear option.

Also, that was not the only reason, or even the main reason for the electoral college-- there were several reasons. One “big league” reason was to make sure the larger states didn’t run the show at the expense of the small states (which I assume you know).

Boyo Jim:

That’s exactly my point. At some point in the past, the Electoral College changed from voters knowing electors and choosing individuals that they trust to make a presidential selection, to nameless people who are simply proxies for a presidential candidate. I’d hate for nameless, unknown people to decide that they will override the votes that the voters knowingly cast.

I see your point. Do you have a cite saying if the Electors were ever known individually by the voters? And if so, how long ago that might have changed?

The original intent was that each state would choose a group of electors. Several states did this by having the state legislature choose the electors (as was also done with Senators). 1864 was the first presidential election where all the electors were chosen through public voting.

As I’ve already acknowledged “supposed to” was a poor choice of terms on my part. But they clearly have the power, and I’m sure this isn’t a matter of legislative error.

For those who want to know who their electors are, here’s the list:

Serving as a check on the people themselves was probably not a major concern at the time. Because of the challenges surrounding varying suffrage in the states and the way politics worked at the time, popular vote for the President was always going to be a problematic solution to implement. So there was no real need to design some kind of check on the will of the people; state legislatures and Congress were already going to be those checks. Instead, there were other design considerations for the Electoral College.

  • It ensured separation of the Legislature and the Executive. The Virginia Plan originally called for Congress to elect the President.
  • It provide smaller states additional voice in the selection of the President, so that they couldn’t be steamrolled by the larger states.
  • It addressed the issue of how to count slaves, if the President were to be selected by a popular vote (by avoiding direct popular vote of the President).
  • More generally, it addressed how to address discrepancies in count between the pool of eligible voters and state populations, since suffrage laws were inconsistent.
  • It ensured that both the states and the will of the people were represented. The Constitution just says that State legislatures decide how to select electors; nothing says the States need to hold a popular vote to select them. The electors themselves cannot be office-holders, so the theory was that the people were represented in that manner. It’s only years later that popular-vote of electors became the standard.
  • As politics was very regional at the time, it allowed for the potential selection of Electors who, hopefully, might have a broader understanding of the political landscape.

Yes, the Electoral College does have the power to serve as a check on the people, as we functionally now do have (somewhat of) a popular-vote election of the President. But it was never really designed with such a power in mind. As times and political realities changed, Madison himself even wrote that he believed the Electoral College would need to change as well.

Not a legal-head by any stretch, but couldn’t this be the basis for a lawsuit? I bubbled in Hillary’s name on my ballot, not some mostly anonymous elector. I could argue that, by not listing said elector next to her name, that I was not voting for said elector at all.

It’s probably in the fine print somewhere that nobody reads, like the End User Licensing Agreements that let Apple come into your house at night and dick-punch you.

So imagine you are an elector, or you could talk to one. I think it is understandable if I believe that a poster who takes the trouble to post what you have is more than academically interested. Instead, those who read and comment are probably hopeful that the EC would vote this way.

As I said elsewhere, I am interested to see if a person feeling that way would be able to say to themselves in a mirror: “If time reversed, and Hillary Clinton won a EC-majority of States on Nov 8, 2016, and the EC decided on Dec 19. that she should not be President, then I would accept it as the proper functioning of our Constitution.”

If you want to pay a lawyer to do it, I’m sure you could find one that would take your money.

Was there a gold fringe on the flag in the polling place? :wink:

Like Hooleehootoo says, the fact that we elected someone the EC thinks is a bozo is not sufficient reason to remove the right of the American electorate to pick who they want. Because of next time.

This is like the Supreme Court making up laws, and saying “that’s fine because I like the laws”. It’s not a principle you can use to argue when the Supreme Court starts making up laws that aren’t fine. Wise and beneficent philosopher kings who can be trusted with absolute power are rather thin on the ground, especially in this election cycle, and I see no indication that this will become common in the future.

I’d rather the EC votes to confirm whoever gets elected, and then if I don’t like him, I can vote for someone else next time. Likewise if the legislature passes some stupid law. I vote for someone else. But the government saying “I know better than you”, including “who should be in charge” - that’s forever.


We have the Electoral College for the same reasons we have all the other checks and balances. The founding fathers didn’t want a true democracy. I recently saw the analogy of two wolves and a sheep are voting on what’s for dinner.

Hamilton drafted a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would require electors to be voted in by district, because the states are already starting to mess with it during his lifetime. The move towards popular voting happened pretty early. Fundamentally, the states want to have one single block of votes, so that they count for more on the national score. Parties want their electors in, instead of random, impartial individuals. And the people like direct democracy. With all that against the measured, bipartisan approach, it wasn’t bound to last.

Maybe if Hamilton hadn’t been killed in a duel, we would have the complete electoral system that the founders had envisioned (but not enshrined into law).

Even if we grant that the EC was originally “supposed to” prevent unworthy demagogues from being elected, so what? That changed. Senators were originally supposed to represent state legislatures. That changed.

Neither change happened by accident. The role of senators changed via constitutional amendment, but no such amendment was needed for electors, because the Constitution leaves it up to the states. Each individual state decided over time that it wanted it’s electors to vote according to the popular vote in that state, and some passed laws binding them to do so.

If you would prefer that your state’s electors act as a deliberative body to select from among the candidates according to their own impartial lights, you can petition your state legislature (or gather signatures for a ballot initiative, depending on your state) to have the electors selected by a nonpartisan elections commission appointed by the governor based on recommendations of a bipartisan legislative committee. That’s how some states, I believe, draw their district boundaries to avoid gerrymandering. It wouldn’t require any change to the US Constitution, just an act of the state legislature. (and possibly a change to the state’s constitution, but those are comparatively easy to do in most states.)


That’s only of value if most states do it. If there’s only one state that is trying to hire a good Executive, while the others are all still in it for themselves, it probably wouldn’t change campaigning nor who is elected. Only once you have a particularly large voting block would it start to affect the election, where the parties will have to nominate people that they know have sufficient experience and strong enough ideas to pass muster when given a hard look by dedicated individuals, and they’ll be more focused on answering technical questions from the electors than on making pithy soundbites for the mass public. (I know, the horror.)

Not really. The electoral college exists exclusively as a compromise to the slave states of old, who had populations that would have been dwarfed by the heavily urbanized North. The 3/5ths compromise was another concession, for the same reasons.

Essentially, the slave states would never have been members of the union if they weren’t assured that they’d have a “fair” crack" at getting the presidency and protecting their “rights” with the veto.

The specific case where this is true is where the South (of old) found a candidate so intolerable - eg, an abolitionist - that they as a block could “win” an election where they lost the popular vote. It rarely came to that (once I think before the civil war?), but that was the idea.

That is the ostensible reason nowadays, that’s true. But in practice, you stuff as many yes-men into that position as you can. I doubt very many electors have the will to be faithless, because people who might have that sort of will are filtered out by the party long before hand.

Well, look at Ted Cruz. Can’t face his daughter, voted for him anyway.