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The Electoral College and the U.S. Presidential Elections Revisited

The Founding Fathers in their wisdom established a Constitutional Republic with a federal system in which each and every state, large and small, has a major stake in the election of the chief executives, the President and Vice President, of the United States of America.

This federal system incorporated an enduring system of checks and balances, separation of powers, limited government, and indirect representation. Within this conceptual framework, the Electoral College has served us well for over two centuries. What is the Electoral College? It’s the body of electors chosen by the citizens of each state to elect the President and Vice President of these United States. The number of electors equals the number of U.S. senators (two) and U.S. Representatives for each particular state, and thus represents not only the wishes of the citizens but also the interests of the states.

These slates of electors are pledged to cast their ballots for a presidential ticket (e.g., Democrat or Republican). The national ticket getting the majority of Electoral College votes wins the election.

Historic Lessons

While other nations from so-called People’s Republics and social(ist) democracies have come and gone, discarded into the dustbin of history, our Republic has endured. Thus blessed, Americans have enjoyed unparalleled political stability, individual freedom, and economic prosperity unequaled in recorded history.

The Founders chose an Electoral College for the election of our chief executives ­ i.e., President and Vice President ­ because of their vast knowledge of history, philosophy and unchanging human nature. They knew from ancient history that destructive passions could be aroused by self-serving demagogues at moments of social unrest and economic crises, leading to political violence and the overthrow of legitimate authorities. (1) The door is thus opened for the advent of anarchy, followed by despotic rule, as “order” is restored at the expense of individual liberty.

The stabilizing and constitutional functions of the Electoral College remain as important today as they were intended to be by the framers at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and through subsequent chapters of American history.

In 1800, when neither Thomas Jefferson nor Aaron Burr received a majority of votes cast by the Electoral College, the U.S. House of Representatives, as the Constitution demanded, elected Jefferson by one vote, ending the impasse. Both Jefferson and Burr were running on the Democratic-Republican ticket, defeating soundly their Federalist opponents.

To prevent this unexpected political situation ­ namely, candidates in the same parties running for both President and Vice President against each other in the same ballot ­ the Twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed on December 9, 1803 and ratified September 25, 1804. This amendment separates and places on separate ballots candidates running for President and Vice President.

In 1824, John Quincy Adams was similarly elected President in the House of Representatives, although Andrew Jackson had received the majority of the popular vote. This election, incidentally, was the first time in American history that the popular vote was actually recorded.

As in the historic election of 1800, because neither Adams nor Jackson received a majority of the Electoral College vote, the election was decided again by the popularly elected House of Representatives, which chose Adams. But history and fortune smiled on Andrew Jackson four years later, in 1828, when Old Hickory beat Adams and was elected President, this time winning both the Electoral College and the popular votes.

Thereafter, there would be only three other occasions in which Presidents and Vice Presidents were elected by a majority of the Electoral College votes, despite losing the popular vote by slim margins. These were the presidential elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000, in which Republican candidates Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison and George W. Bush were elected President, respectively.

Fairness in National Elections

These elections, though, did not signify a loss of majority rule per se but, as we shall see, served the fundamental purpose of preserving the delicate geographical balance among the various urban and rural populations of the small and large states of the Federal Union.

Be that as it may, the will of the American people, as determined by the ballots of the various distinct regions of the nation, is expressed through the Electoral College, whose function ascertains that all Americans are heard during the electoral process. It is fairer than a popular, direct election for several reasons.

As I have written elsewhere, the Electoral College “is more conductive to have the candidates campaign more equitably throughout the country ­ in rural areas as well as urban centers, smaller states as well as larger states ­ because not doing so may result in the candidates’ loss of an entire state and its slate of electoral votes, rather than just losing small clusters of votes.

“On the other hand, in the case of popular elections, candidates would concentrate their campaigning in heavily urban areas because they can get more value for their time and money.

“Another reason concerning fairness even more acutely is the occurrence of natural catastrophes, such as floods or hurricanes, which can depress disastrously the turnout of voters of a region of a state or several states. Yet, with the Electoral College, these voters are not penalized, because their states would still contribute the same number of electoral votes toward the election. This also illustrates the fact that, as our Founders intended, these United States are a confederation in which the states join together to elect the president and vice president of that confederation.”(2)

Moreover, as we saw in Palm Beach County, Florida, in the 2000 election, very close elections may require tedious recounts, which even in this age of computerized voting remain a painstaking process. Popular, direct elections require recounting individual, direct votes (including absentee and provisional ballots) rather than the defined slate of state electoral votes, creating more opportunities for clerical errors or outright ballot fraud.

A word should be said about proportional representation and fractional balloting ­ as opposed to the present system of “winner takes all” ­ a system that was proposed in Colorado this past election. To the credit of the citizens of that state, it was soundly defeated. Proportional representation, particularly for the U.S. Electoral College, is a bad idea that should be soundly defeated whenever and wherever it’s proposed!

Proportional representation with the fractional casting of a state’s Electoral College votes would drastically dilute the voting strength of the individual state that foolishly adopts it, making that state irrelevant in a nationwide presidential contest. If this proposal were to be uniformly adopted by the nation by constitutional amendment, it would defeat the purpose for which the Electoral College was wisely created, negating all of the previously outlined benefits.

With the substantive re-election of President George W. Bush in 2004 winning both the Electoral College and the popular vote by clear majorities ­ and as we have seen with the election (and re-election) of Democrat President Andrew Jackson inaugurating the populism of Jacksonian Democracy ­ the Electoral College process has shown that it worked then, as it was intended, and continues to function well in the 21st century.


1. Faria, MA Jr. The Downfall of the Republic?, November 10, 2000.

2. Faria, MA Jr. The Electoral College: Even More Important Now, Not Less., November 13, 2000.

Written by Dr. Miguel A. Faria

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D. is editor emeritus of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons (formerly the Medical Sentinel) and author of “Vandals at the Gates of Medicine” (1995), “Medical Warrior: Fighting Corporate Socialized Medicine” (1997) and “Cuba in Revolution: Escape From a Lost Paradise” (2002). His books are available at

This article may be cited as: Faria MA. The Electoral College and the U.S. presidential election revisited., November 8, 2004. Available from:

Copyright ©2004 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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