The Longest Night: Polemics and Perspectives on Election 2000

By Arthur J. Jacobson; Michel Rosenfeld | Go to book overview

21
THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE:
A MODEST CONTRIBUTION

If one were to make a list of the most valuable elements of the United States Constitution, ranking them according to the importance of their contribution to preserving constitutional values, the Electoral College would fall rather low on the list. It is doubtful that we would design such an institution today if we were writing a constitution from scratch, and even the Founders came up with the device rather haphazardly. Unsurprisingly, it has been among the most frequent targets of reform, with hundreds of proposed constitutional amendments having been introduced in Congress to alter the presidential selection process. Nonetheless, the Electoral College makes a modest contribution to our constitutional and political system, and it would be unwise to tinker with it.


BUILDING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

Before considering the contribution of the Electoral College, it is worth specifying the matter for consideration. There are several important elements to the constitutional scheme for presidential selection. 1 First, the president is chosen directly by a relatively small number of specially selected presidential electors, not by the general citizenry. Citizens cast votes in November for electors to represent them in the formal presidential election conducted in the various states in December. Although citizens are formally voting for electors, most ballots now show only the names of the presidential candidates in order to minimize voter confusion and ease printing. Electors are generally loyal activists of the political parties who are “pledged” to vote for their party's candidate. Some states have attempted to bind electors to their pledges through the threat of small sanctions for voting unfaithfully, but there is no constitutional barrier to electors voting

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