“The Framers feared that voters would not be able to make a reasoned and informed choice if the president were elected through a direct election. They worried that, in such a large country, voters would have difficulty learning about the candidates and would most likely vote for candidates from their own state, giving large states a huge advantage. They were also concerned about a rule by a democratic mob.”
The Electoral College was devised as a way to make sure the elite leaders of the states would elect the president, giving rise to a semi-democratic system, said Brandon Rottinghaus, UH associate political science professor.
Representation in the Electoral College is equal to representation in Congress, so each state gets one electoral vote for each member of the House of Representatives and Senate. Washington, D.C. also has three electoral votes, bringing the national total to 538 votes.
While the assumption is whoever wins a plurality of the popular vote will win the election, that is not always the case, Rottinghaus said.
“Usually the popular vote does correspond to the Electoral College, but in very rare cases, it may not. The 2000 Election was a very notable case, and it drew national attention to the Electoral College and the American electoral system.”
According to Rottinghaus, there are two alternatives to the Electoral College. The first would distribute votes according to House districts, awarding one vote to the candidate who won each House district and two bonus votes to the candidate who wins the state popular vote. Maine and Nebraska have selective black distribution systems.
The second would allocate state electoral votes to whoever wins the nationwide popular vote. Nine states — California, Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, D.C., Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland and New Jersey — have adopted this method of distributing votes.
Although the majority of states are not considered “in play” in presidential elections under the current system, Rottinghaus and Simas emphasized the importance of continuing to vote.
“Many use this as an indication of the general partisan balance of a state,” Simas said. “It is then used to determine which states may have Senate seats or governorships that can be won in upcoming elections and even which states may be competitive in 2016. Even though people may feel the impact of their vote on the current election is somewhat limited, there is great potential to influence the competitiveness of their state and lower-ticket elections.”