To truly understand the electoral college, one must understand the origins of the U.S. federal government and how the country came to be. After the revolution and separation from Britain, the U.S. was essentially a loosely-formed group of states with very little in common. The representatives from these states came together to form a union because it was essential to the survival and security of the states to do so. That did not mean they all got along, or even liked each other.
You can imagine today if aliens were threatening the planet and the U.S., China, and Russia all had to join forces. They would do so to survive, and out of necessity, but there would be significant arguments and power struggles in whatever alliance they formed.
So the electoral college was formed, with each state choosing who would represent their state in the vote for a leader. In the alien invasion example, it would be as if the U.S., Russia, and China all chose representatives to attend a conference and choose a leader. This wouldn’t seem strange at all, and in fact is similar to how the U.S. often operates internationally.
Each state was allowed to decide how it would choose the members of its electoral college. Similarly, in the alien example, each of the three countries would choose their representatives however they wished, and most people wouldn’t think twice about it.
The Electoral College is actually genius in that it brings all states, including the smaller ones, into play. Campaigning is much different!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2016
Fast forward to today, with the electoral college making new headlines every day, and millions of Americans searching the internet trying to understand what the electoral college is and why it was created the way it was. Many people find themselves frustrated at a disjointed system that works differently in each state and seems to have no logic in today’s society. This is because most U.S. citizens see themselves simply as Americans now, rather than members of individual states. But the U.S. constitution was written during a time when that was not the case. And so the electoral college, and other law-making activities are done from the perspective of a group of states, with vastly different citizenry and laws, coming together to make decisions that affect them as a whole.
Many people may wonder why, with over 500 electors and massive disdain on both sides of the aisle, there seems to be so little potential for faithless electors. That is because of how the electors are chosen.
A state doesn’t just select members of the electoral college at random and hope that they will represent the voters in that state when the day comes. In fact, the states typically don’t select who will represent them at all. That is all done by the parties.
Let’s use this year as an example. The Republican candidate, which this year was Donald Trump, won the majority vote in the state of Michigan. So now the electoral college members that were chosen before the election by the Republican Party in Michigan will represent the state on the day the electoral college votes. These members are not chosen at random either. The Republican Party chose party leaders and other people that have shown dedication to the Party for a significantly long time.
This helps explain why the U.S. so rarely sees faithless electors. The electors are chosen because of their dedication to their party, and they are extremely unlikely to backtrack on years of dedication and vote for an opposing party’s candidate.
There are many arguments for and against the electoral college. One side argues that the electoral college gives undue power to smaller states because their representation per person is greater. However, the other side argues that without the electoral college then a few big states would be able to vote and make all the decisions for the entire country.
In order to change the way the system currently operates, a constitutional amendment would need to be passed. This would require either two-thirds of the state legislatures to come together and get something passed, or two-thirds of the House of Representatives and Senate to vote for the same. In today’s highly-charged political climate that is extremely unlikely to ever happen.
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