The Electoral College

Its History, Some Controversies, and Your Questions

By Ryan C. MacPhesron, Ph.D.

Constitution Day presentation, Bethany Lutheran College, September 21, 2016

Meyer Hall 101, 7 p.m.


I.    Introduction

A.    Political Rationale for Constitution Day: A Federal Mandate for Patriotic Education

B.    Spiritual Perspective on Constitution Day: The Fourth Petition and the Doctrine of Vocation

II.    Foundational Principles

A.    Declaration of Independence (1776)

1.    The Principle of Inalienable Rights
2.    The Principle of Representative Government

B.    Thirteen State Constitutions (ca. 1776): Thirteen Distinct Representative Governments

C.    The Articles of Confederation (1781): Linking the State Governments

III.    The Philadelphia Convention (1787)

A.    A Shift in Congressional Representation: From “We the States” to “We the People”

B.    Two New Branches in the Federal Government: Executive and Judicial

C.    Whom Did the Executive Represent? By Whom Should the Executive Be Chosen?

1.    Presidential Electors
2.    Tie-Breaking by the House (President) and Senate (Vice President)
3.    A Complicated Procedure for Representing Congress, the States, and the People

IV.    The Electoral College during the Era of the Early Republic

A.    Smooth Examples:

1.    Election of President Washington and Vice President Adams (1789)
2.    Re-Election of Washington-Adams (1792)

B.    Problematic Examples:

1.    Election of President Adams and Vice President Jefferson (1796)
2.    Election of President Jefferson and Vice President Burr (1800)

C.    The Twelfth Amendment (1804): Accommodating the Two-Party System

V.    The Electoral College in Later American History

A.    The Seventeenth Amendment (1913): Shifting from a “Federal” to a “National” Senate

B.    Understanding Voters’ Ballots

C.    The Conundrum of “Faithless” Electors

VI.    Some Alternatives

A.    Require Electors to Follow the Popular Vote in Their State

B.    Switch from “Winner Take All” to a Proportionate (District by District) System

C.    Remap Electoral Districts according to Regional Interest Groups

D.    Replace the Electoral College with a Direct, National Popular Vote

VII.    The Key Issue

What is the best presidential election process for ensuring that the federal government adequately represents the states and their people, in order to protect people’s rights to life, liberty, and property?

[Note: A previous version of this presentation was delivered on September 17, 2008.]

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