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3 minutes on . . . The Electoral College James Thurber Distinguished Professor, Department of Government, and director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies

major compromise at the It began as a

In presidential elections,

The House of

voters vote for a


slate of

proportional representation in a

drafting of the

electors, who meet in the

passed a change that would

all of the states.


state capitals the Monday after the

correct the

I think that then the election

Some people wanted to elect the

second Wednesday in December to

between the popular vote and

would not depend primarily on

president by popular vote. Other

cast their votes on separate ballots

the electoral vote, but the

a handful of states, which is

people, mainly from smaller states,

for president and vice president.

proposal failed in the Senate.

where the

didn’t want a president elected by

Their votes are sent

It’s never come up since.

time. With proportional

popular vote because the large

by registered mail to

I did an analysis of the close

representation, the candidates

states would dominate.

the U.S. Senate, which

and contested 2000 election.

also would have

The Constitutional Convention

certifies them.

Bush would have won if electoral

to campaign

approved the Electoral College on

votes had been counted by

vigorously in

proportional representation.

populous states.

After 2000, however,

I would not

September 6, 1787.

It’s arcane; it needs

to be changed. I used to work for

The term Electoral College was not written into federal law until

1845. The number of electors


battle was this

Hubert Humphrey.

outrage petered out

He came within

quickly, I

vote because then the

think because

campaign would only be in three

people realized it was

or four states. We have many

change it to a


equals the number of each state’s

1 percent of winning the

representatives plus its two

1968 election, but the outcome of

senators. Since 1964 we’ve had

the election went overwhelmingly

hopeless to change

538 electors.

for Nixon in terms of the Electoral

the Constitution.

large states, so a

Two states, Maine and


Practically, we’re not going

popular vote

to amend the Constitution—

approach would

Humphrey got 191. You need 270

If I had the power, I certainly

because of what

to win. But Humphrey lost by

would change it. My solution, to

happened at the

proportional representation.

511,000 popular votes, which was

make it more reflective of the

Constitutional Convention where

Whoever wins the congressional

less than 1 percent of the total.

views of more Americans, is to

the small states didn’t allow it.

district wins the electoral vote.

This led to an

make it more like Maine and

The more things change . . .

Nebraska, have


got 301




that was proposed to change the

it’s too hard.

more small states than we do

never pass

Nebraska. I would change it to

Electoral College.

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American magazine  

The flagship publication of American University. The new magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a...

American magazine  

The flagship publication of American University. The new magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a...