Regardless of whether you want to preserve the Electoral College as it is, tweak it (as I do) or scrap it entirely, you have to understand that it doesn’t function today the way the Founding Fathers planned. I think this is worth pointing out in light of the animated responses I’ve gotten from readers regarding my last column, which called for reform by adding a set of bonus electoral votes which would be rewarded to the winner of the national popular vote. People seem to make a couple of errors in their reverence for the Electoral College. First, they misunderstand its purpose, and concomitantly they misunderstand what it does and doesn’t constitutionally entail.
“The Electoral College system … was created by the founding fathers for the new Republic not as a direct outgrowth of eighteenth-century political principles but rather as an ad hoc compromise between those who believed in election of the president by Congress and those who believed in popular election,” the political scientist William Keech wrote in 1978. Some founders wanted direct election; others mistrusted average voters’ “capacity to judge of the respective pretensions of the candidates,” as George Mason put it. This was especially true given the expectation – before the two-party system arose to winnow the number of contenders – that voters would be choosing among a host of candidates from far afield. How could some farmer from Virginia or New York know enough about all the candidates from other states and regions, the reasoning went.