In my personal opinion the Founding Fathers chose the Electoral College in 1787 because:
a. The delegates didn’t like any of the alternatives. On July 17 electing the President by popular vote was voted down 9 states to 1! The Founding Fathers really didn’t want the people electing the President directly. (See my blog post “There were five reasons why the Founding Fathers didn’t want the people directly electing the President in 1787.)
The other main option was Congress selecting the President, like they do in Great Britain where Parliament selects the Prime Minister. The Founding Fathers decided to have Congress select the President. But they really weren’t happy with this choice either because the President would then be too dependent on Congress for his job and they wanted to maintain the independence of the presidency as a check on Congress becoming too powerful in the new government.
b. After spending four months debating and arguing in the hot Philadelphia summer away from their families, farms and businesses, by the end of the Convention in September the Founding Fathers wanted desperately to go home. The didn’t have any interest in another long debate on how to select the president.
c. Since everyone knew George Washington would be the first President, and that he would be great, they didn’t have to worry about how well the Electoral College would actually work for the first 8 years of the Constitution. So like good politicians they could leave the problem of the best way to select the President to be finally solved by future politicians.
d. On August 31, near the end of the Constitutional Convention (the Convention ended on September 17), they formed the Committee on Postponed Parts to resolve all of the leftover difficult problems that they had yet to resolve. The committee resurrected the idea of the Electoral College, as the best way to select the President, which the Convention had previously rejected. The committee made some improvements to it and on September 4 they recommended to the whole Convention that the Electoral College be used to select the President.
The biggest reason the Founding Fathers finally chose the Electoral College to select the President was that all of the political factions at the Convention got something out of the Electoral College system, except James Wilson who wanted the President elected directly by the people and Alexander Hamilton who wanted the President to serve for life (subject to “good” behavior).
- The states liked it because each state legislature would decide how to choose its own Electors.
- The large population states liked it because they would have the advantage when the Electors voted in the Electoral College, since there were more Electors from large states than small states.
- 95% of the time the Convention delegates expected no candidate to have a majority of the Electoral College votes, since most delegates would vote for “favorite son” candidates from their own state. Then the House would choose from the top five vote-getters in the Electoral College with each state getting one equal vote. (Later changed to the top three in 1804). Since there were more small states than large states, the small states would then have the advantage. In effect the small states would get to pick the President in the House from a list of nominees chosen by the large states from the Electoral College vote.
- The Southern slave states got extra Electors since 3/5 of their slaves counted as “real” people in the House even though they were treated as property and of course couldn’t vote.
- The wealthy “elites”, just about every delegate at the Convention, liked the Electoral College because the better educated and more wealthy Electors would prevent the “ignorant poor” from electing a president that favored “Leveling Laws” that redistributed wealth from the “elites” to the poorer “average citizens“ (18th Century version of socialism )
- And the President would not be beholden to Congress for his job, unlike if Congress selected the President, which had been the Founding Fathers’ 1st choice for selecting the President.
- On September 6, 1787 the Constitutional Convention voted 10 states to 1 to use the Electoral College system to select our president.
- “For of all things done in the convention the members seemed to have been prouder of that [the Electoral College] than of any other, and they seemed to regard it as having solved the problem for any country of how to choose a [President].” Max Farrand, in The Framing of the Constitution of the United States, pg. 175,
- But the Founding Fathers had not taken into account the rise of political parties, which did not exist in 1787. They also could not foresee a future where the voters would be better educated, wealthier and better informed than in 1787 and would also want a more direct say in presidential elections, instead of having “elite” Electors choose the President for them in an Electoral College.
As a result the Electoral College has Never worked entirely the way the Founding Fathers intended it to work.