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The “Hurrying Influence”: Revisiting the Electoral College

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
February 28, 2022

I am going to guess that you have either read an article about the nation’s Electoral College, studied it in a civics course or have seen a television documentary on it in your lifetime. In this article, I briefly summarize the current issue surrounding the Electoral College and alternatives.

History of the Electoral College.

The founding fathers of the country had definite misgivings about the Executive Branch and the presidency. There still existed a general mistrust of a strong executive because no one really wanted another monarch-like figure. They preferred a “do-er”—someone who would ensure that the laws of Congress would be “faithfully executed.” They were focused on the Legislative Branch, first and foremost—to the extent that at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, they shelved the issue of how to elect the president, putting it in the “Committee for Unfinished Parts.” The attendees felt rushed—they wanted to go home. According to James Madison, the drafters of the Constitution were “not exempt from a degree of the hurrying influence produced by fatigue and impatience in all such bodies.” Consequently, the idea of the Electoral College was designed to please the states so that the drafters could go home.

The idea of having the people vote for a slate of electors who then went to the heart of government to cast their respective state votes for president seemed logical and workable at that time. After all, it took some doing to just get to Philadelphia. You couldn’t pick up the non-existent telephone and say, “Hey, we here in Virginia have tallied our votes and here they are!”

There have been five occasions where a U.S. president was elected without winning the popular vote:

  1. John Quincy Adams in 1824. It’s interesting to note that the House of Representatives decided that Adams should be president, even though Andrew Jackson won both the popular vote and the electoral vote—he just had a plurality, not a majority. In those cases, the House decides from the top three vote getters.
  2. Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. Twenty electoral votes were highly disputed. The government created a Federal Elections Commission who promptly gave all 20 votes to Hayes, even though Tilden received 252,666 more popular votes. This was rumored to be a result of deal-making.
  3. Benjamin Harrison in 1888. Grover Cleveland won the popular vote by 90,596 but lost in the Electoral College. This election was well-known for corruption.
  4. George W. Bush in 2000. The election came down to Florida. Bush appealed Florida Supreme Court’s pro-Gore decision to the U.S. Supreme Court and won, becoming president even though Gore had 500,000 more popular votes.
  5. Donald R. Trump in 2016. Mr. Trump had fewer than 2.8 million popular votes than Mrs. Clinton but won the Electoral College by achieving narrow victory margins in swing states.

Looking at these occurrences generally confirms that the states —not the people—elect the U.S. president. This aligns with the intent of the founders who did not envision electing presidents by popular vote.


Status quo—do nothing, keep the Electoral College as is.

It seems to be working just fine, especially in cases where there is a preponderance of votes in one direction. In other words, a heavy popular and state preference for one candidate. After all, in 59 presidential elections, the winner of the popular vote also won the Electoral College vote in 54 of them. Therefore, the states (and their people) have been electing the president.

Eliminate the Electoral College.

We are the only nation that uses an Electoral College system—but proponents of our Electoral College say that a direct popular vote would engender tyranny and lopsided results, in favor of largely populated areas. They insist that the system would implode as many pure democracies have. However, even Mr. Trump, who won by virtue of the Electoral College, expressed a preference for a pure democratic vote.

Modify the Electoral College process.

Perhaps employ methods espoused by Maine and Nebraska—where electoral votes follow congressional district vote totals, except for the two senatorial votes which follow whoever has the most statewide votes. Yet another modification could be to accord state electoral votes to whoever wins the national popular vote. In my mind, this would be akin to eliminating the college altogether.


The United States is more and more characterized by a highly polarized electorate. It is likely that presidential elections will continue to be close and sometimes hotly contested. Even under those conditions, the U.S. Constitution already has in place mechanisms designed to resolve those elections. In a republic with a strong federalist system such as ours, it seems fitting that each state determines who it wants to be president as opposed to a purely popular vote. However, there is room to examine modifications of the states’ winner-take-all systems so that there is more inclusion of every voter. That’s state business—how a state tallies its electoral votes should be entirely the purview of that state. Whatever the country wants to do with the Electoral College itself, however, will require a Constitutional amendment.

Author: Dr. Robert Brescia respects the wisdom of generations, promotes the love of learning, teaches ethics to university students, government & politics to AP seniors, and leadership to organizations. The Governor of Texas appointed him to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Robert_Brescia.

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One Response to The “Hurrying Influence”: Revisiting the Electoral College

  1. Richard V. Battle Reply

    March 1, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Excellent synopsis.

    I hope you’ll elaborate more on the 1876 election because of the similarities to 2020.

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