Yesterday, the electoral college voted to confirm the election of Donald Trump. Could they have voted otherwise? Technically yes, but they might have been penalized by their respective states.
That we still have an electoral college is pretty ridiculous, especially as they’re pretty much purely ceremonial at this point. The electoral college began as somewhat of a compromise between those who wanted the President elected by popular vote and those who favored election by Congress or state governors. The theory appears to have been that the people of each state would vote for a number of electors equal to that of their Congressional representatives, then the electors would deliberate in the state capitals and each vote for two people, only one of whom could be from their state. The person who received the second most votes would be Vice President, but as there was no way to determine which office the electors wanted their candidates to have, this was altered with Twelfth Amendment in 1804. That original system also often meant the President and Vice President would be at odds with each other. Slavery was also a factor, as Virginian James Madison argued that a popular vote would favor the North, and the electoral college allowed slave states to count slaves toward their number of electors. The fact that this ended up favoring Virginia is secondary to how hypocritical the idea was. Madison claimed that, under a popular vote, Southern states “could have no influence in the election on the score of Negroes.” Because who better to represent slaves than slave owners and those who defend slave owners, right? Apparently no one thought to argue that three-fifths of a person should be paid at least three-fifths of a salary. This method resulted in Thomas Jefferson winning over John Adams in 1800. The framers assumed that electors would be picked by district, and would be more knowledgeable on political issues than most of the population. The advent of political parties basically changed all that. Not only are electors typically chosen by parties, but most of the states are winner-take-all, meaning that the electors really have no choice in whom to vote for. If the electors are just going to vote for the winner in the state’s popular vote, why even have electors? We can count the state’s votes without them. Maine and Nebraska still select electors by district, but I believe that even there they’re supposed to vote for the winner of the popular vote from each district. And if the electors DO decide to vote for someone other than the candidate they pledged to vote for, then that means the votes of the people in their state are essentially worthless. Theoretically, this is supposed to weed out demagogues, but that goes back to the idea that electors should be better informed, and I don’t think that’s usually the case. It’s a bit naively elitist to think that someone who fooled a significant portion of the American population wouldn’t be able to fool a few people selected by political parties. There’s no real qualification for being an elector, other than that you can’t already hold federal office and you can’t have committed treason. If the Founding Fathers had specific ideas about these electors, they probably should have just spelled them out. It seems like they just kind of assumed everyone would think they same way they did. I think we should just switch to popular election, and I’m not just saying that because I supported the person who won the popular vote but not the electoral both times it happened in my lifetime. Our system is needlessly complicated, but since it gives more power to some states, it would probably be difficult to pass a Constitutional amendment getting rid of it.
If we ARE going to keep the state-based system, we should probably at least eliminate the electors.
Also based on archaic reasoning and ripe for elimination is that bit about the President having to be a natural-born citizen. The meaning isn’t even really clear. Is it supposed to exclude test tube babies, as they’re artificial-born citizens? More importantly, what does where you were born have to do with loyalty to the nation? If you moved here and did all the work to become a citizen, that seems pretty patriotic to me. Yeah, a foreigner COULD be an agent under the influence of another government. As we learned in the most recent election, however, so could someone born in the United States. The law might have stopped Henry Kissinger and Arnold Schwarzenegger from running, but it probably also disqualified a lot of candidates who would have done a good job.