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The method of electing the President and Vice President of the United States came under considerable discussion at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Although there was little difficulty in agreeing that the President and Vice President should be elected officials, those in attendance at the Convention disagreed widely on the method of clection. Proposed methods included direct popular election, election by the Congress, election by the state legislatures, and election by intermediate electors.
DIRECT ELECTION was opposed because it was generally felt that the people would have difficulty in determining the character or qualifications of possible candidates. Communications were exceedingly slow in those days, leading to the general conclusion that an intelligent choice of a President through direct
popular vote was impossible. These reasons, in part, brought about a rejection of the direct election plan.
ELECTION BY CONGRESS was rejected because it was felt that this system would interfere with the principle of executive independence. An alternate proposal would have let the Congress appoint the President but make him ineligible for a second term. This suggestion was also rejected.
ELECTION BY THE STATE LEGISLATURES was rejected because it was felt that the President, under this system, might be overly indebted to the states and might thereby fall under undue pressure from the states.
Reaching an impasse, the Constitutional Convention appointed a "Committee of Eleven" to study and present a proposed solution to the problem.
THE ADOPTED METHOD On September 4, 1787, the "Committee of Eleven" be required with a quorum of two-thirds of the reported a compromise plan which was accepted with states voting. minor changes by the Convention. The following points - If more than one candidate received a majority, were included in the compromise proposal and con
and received an equal number of votes, one of stitute a portion of Article II of the Constitution:
them shall be chosen President by the House of - Each state would appoint Presidential electors Representatives. (This was possible because in the manner set by its legislature.
each elector voted for two persons for President) - Each state would have as many electors as it - If no candidate received a majority of the elechad Representatives and Senators combined.
toral vote, then the House would restrict its - The electors would meet in their own states and
voting to the top five candidates. cast their votes.
- After choice of President, candidate having the
next greatest number of votes would become - Each elector would vote for two persons for President, one of whom at least should not be
Vice President. If two or more should have
equal votes, then the Senate would choose the an inhabitant of the same state with themselves.
Vice President from among them by ballot. Results in each state would be transmitted
The adopted plan represented a concession to the signed, certified and sealed—to the Congress
smaller states, since in addition to receiving one elecwhere the votes would be counted.
toral vote for each Representative, they were allowed Candidate receiving majority of electoral votes
two additional votes, corresponding to the two Senators, would be President and the second highest can regardless of how small their population might be. The didate would be Vice President.
same concession had been given to the smaller states Should electors fail to give a majority of their in equal representation in the Senate. Also, the intervotes to a single candidate, the House of Rep- ests of smaller states were protected by allocating one resentatives would be given authority to elect. vote to each state delegation in the House of RepresentFor this purpose, each state delegation would atives, in the event a final election was to be made be allowed one vote, and a majority vote would by the House.
THE TWELFTH AMENDMENT
Only once has the adopted system been substantially altered. This took place, in part, as a result of the Presidential election of 1800. Jefferson and Burr received an equal number of electoral votes. The election then became the responsibility of the House of Representatives and it took thirty-six ballots before Jefferson was finally elected. Burt became Vice President.
The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1804, within ten months of its submission, sought to prevent a recurrence of such an impasse by providing that the electors should vote separately for President and Vice President.
Other changes brought about by the adoption of the Twelfth Amendment are as follows:
- If the election reverts to the House of Representatives, the choice would be limited to the case of death or other constitutional disability top three candidates rather than the top five as of the President. originally provided by the Constitution.
- In the election of the Vice President, if no candiIf the House of Representatives, through neglect date receives a majority, then the Senate shall or otherwise, should fail to elect a President
choose the Vice President from the two highest (if the responsibility should fall upon it) by candidates. Senate quorum requirement: TwoMarch 4 following the general election, then the
thirds of whole number of Senators with a moVice President shall act as President, as in the
jority of all the Senators required to elect.
THE EARLY YEARS The Founding Fathers intended that the members by leading statesmen of both parties, including Jefferson, of the electoral college, that is, the electors, would be Hamilton, Madison, John Quincy Adams, Jackson, chosen by the states on the basis of their stature as Van Buren, and Webster. citizens in their communities and states and that they The district plan eventually was abandoned, due would vote as individuals in choosing a President. How largely to the desire on the part of state political leaders ever, political management was evident in the first two to "deliver" the state's entire electoral vote to one elections and, in the third election, as strong political Presidential candidate or another. Thus, the unit vote parties evolved, electors were chosen merely as repre- system evolved under which all of the state's Presiden sentatives of the political parties and were expected tial electors went to the party which won a plurality to vote for candidates nominated by their party. By of the popular votes statewide. 1800. independent voting by electors almost disap- As some states began to adopt the unit vote system peared.
for Presidential electors, the other states soon followed The Constitution empowered each state to decide suit, apparently in self defense. Each state undertook for itself the manner in which it would appoint Presi- to consolidate its electoral vote strength through the dential electors. Until 1800, about half of the state unit vote system, or the en bloc, general ticket system, legislatures chose electors themselves. However, a as it is sometimes called. gradual change came about in the method of choosing By 1832, the district plan had virtually vanished the electors and, by 1804, the majority of the state from the scene, with only isolated instances, since then, legislatures had provided for direct popular election of of its use by certain states. Since 1892, the present the electors.
system has been used by every state in the Union. At first, most of the states provided that electors should be elected from districts similar to Congressional
Arguments presented pro and con the present districts, under which one elector was chosen by the
system and various proposals for reform throughvoters of each Congressional district, and two were
out this pamphlet are those that have been preelected by those of the state at large. The electoral
sented in writings and congressional hearings by votes from a state were split if the various districts differed in their political sentiments.
proponents and opponents and are listed regard
less of the validity of the arguments. The district plan of choosing electors was supported
ARGUMENTS FAVORING CHANGE IN PRESENT SYSTEM
Opponents of the present system of electing the President and the Vice President have offered the following arguments in opposition to the system we now have which gives the entire slate of Presidential electors in a state to the party which receives a plurality of the popular vote in that state.
The three-step election system-popular vote in
nority" Presidents below)
individual states would cast their electoral votes
cast in those states. Furthermore, the votes of
MINORITY PRESIDENTS Some critics of the present system point to the "in- The real criticism by some proponents of reform equity” in the present system which permits the elec- (particularly those who advocate a nationwide popular tion of so-called "minority" Presidents. These are vote) is of situations in which the elected President Presidents who attained a majority (over 50%) of actually received fewer popular voies than his nearest the electoral vote but less than a majority of the total opponent. This occurred in the following instances: popular votes cast. This has occurred in fourteen in 1824-John Quincy Adams received fewer popular stances which fall into two categories:
votes than Andrew Jackson and, since neither 1. Those who received less than 50% of the
had a majority of the electoral votes, the popular votes cast but more votes than the
election fell to the House of Representatives, ncarest opponent. (11 instances)
which elected Adams. 2. Those who received less than 50% of the 1876_Rutherford B. Hayes received fewer popular popular votes cast but fewer votes than the
votes than Samuel J. Tilden. However, renearest opponent. (3 instances)
turns from four states were contested and The fact that a President may be elected with less
an electoral commission created by Congress than a majority of the popular vote has not come under
decided the contested returns in favor of much criticism as long as the victor actually received
Hayes, enabling him to win the election by more voles than his nearest opponent. All of the major
one electoral vote. reform proposals presumc minority" Presidents in this 1888-Benjamin Harrison polled fewer popular votes category to be a possibility and most proponents of
than Grover Cleveland, but received more reform do not object to this feature of the present
electoral votes and was elected to the Presisystem.
ARGUMENTS FAVORING RETENTION OF PRESENT SYSTEM
Those who support the continuation of the present - The present system holds to the principle of system offer the following arguments in favor of their federalism on which the country was founded, position.
by allowing the states a voice in the choice of - With but one amendment, the present system
electors. has been used successfully for almost two cen By weighting the composition of the electoral turies.
college in favor of the small and sparsely settled - Only once, in 1876, did a man who actually
states, the authors of the Constitution helped to received a majority (over 50 percent) of the
reconcile these states to the idea of federation. popular vote fail to win the Presidency.
- The present system provides for effective expression of the vote in metropolitan areas in Presidential elections to counterbalance the rural
influence allegedly evident in the Congress.
of the two-party system because it tends to min-
may go to a man who has not received a ma-
ARGUMENTS FOR AND AGAINST METHODS OF REFORM
RECOMMENDED IN POLICY DECLARATION The National Chamber's Board of Directors advocates wide popular vote for the Presidency. One was inthe adoption of a policy declaration in favor of elec troduced by Senator Margaret Chase Smith (R-Me.), toral college reform and in support of an Amendment Senate Joint Resolution 1, which would provide for to the Constitution that would provide for the adoption separate direct national votes for President and Vice
or the District President, with a run-off election between the two Method for the election of the President and Vice highest candidates four weeks later if no candidate President of the United States.
received a majority in the regular election. There follows a description of these proposals, ref The other proposal introduced in the 88th Congress erence to pertinent legislative action, and arguments was Senate Joint Resolution 73, introduced by former pro and con each method.
Senator Kenneth B. Keating (R-N.Y.), calling for a
direct national vote for President and Vice President, NATIONWIDE POPULAR VOTE running together on single tickets, with the election METHOD
awarded to any ticket with a plurality.
A variety of resolutions for direct nationwide popular This method would simply award the Presidency to vote have been introduced in the U. S. House of Rep. the candidate who receives a majority or a plurality, resentatives. as may be provided, of a nationwide popular vote with In the 89th Congress (1965-66), Senator Smith's out regard to state boundaries and excluding any elec (R-Me.) proposal, Senate Joint Resolution 4, co toral vote considerations,
sponsored by Senator Aiken (R-VL.), was re-introduced The nationwide popular vote method received some and is pending before the Senate Subcommittee on consideration at the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Constitutional Amendments. It was rejected by a vote of 9-2 with Pennsylvania and Delaware voting in favor.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF THE It was first introduced as a proposed Constitutional NATIONWIDE POPULAR VOTE Amendment by Rep. William McManus (N.Y.) in 1826. It has been enbodied in almost 100 proposals
A direct vote for President would sweep away since then and is a pending proposal in the 89th
all the possible abuses of the current method, Congress.
including the right of state legislatures to direct The proposal has been voted on and rejected several
methods of choosing electors, the right of electors times in the U. S. Senate; in 1934 by a vote of 29-59, in
to disobey instructions, the advantages of big 1950 by a vote of 28-63, in 1956 by a vote of 17-66.
states over small states or small states over big In 1961, Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), the
states, and the possibility that the popular vote present Majority Leader, introduced a resolution which
winner would not be the President. proposed direct national election. Other Senators who
The chances of fraud changing an election result have sponsored similar legislation are: Senator Aiken
would be greatly reduced. (R-Vt.), the late Senator Chavez (D-N.M.), former - Every citizen's vote would count equally under Senator Beall (R-Md.) and Senator Morse (D-Ore.). a direct election plan. Minority and special
In the 88th Congress (1963-64) there were two interest groups would have political power equal major proposals introduced calling for a form of nation
to their actual numbers along with other citizens.
- If the President is to be the man of the people,
he ought to be elected directly by the people
without regard to the states. - Most Americans think they vote directly now
and would be incensed if the popular vote winner was denied the Presidency as could happen under the current system and certain other proposals
for reform. - Political activity would be promoted in the
"safe" states where one party is dominant and the two-party system thus invigorated. Candidates would have to direct their campaigns to the population as a whole, rather than to special interest groups. Direct popular election is simple to comprehend and conforms to most American's belief as to what they are and should be doing when they vote in a Presidential election. There are only two national elective offices, the Presidency and Vice Presidency. It seems just and right that this should be a truly national election with every qualified citizen entitled to an equal vote. Strong support for electoral reform has come from those who are interested in reviving the small state's influence in presidential elections. In order to accomplish this they must eliminate the prevailing general ticket system which favors the large states. Some balance in the exchange of electoral power would result from the elimination of the electoral votes for the office of Senator under the direct election proposal. Under every other method it would still be possible to have minority presidents elected although another candidate might receive a larger popular vote. A nationwide popular vote could be implemented without additional federal standards connected with voting qualifications. Only a nationwide popular vote can enlist the moral and ideological forces which would be required to bring about a change in the present system. The federal principle in our government would not be jeopardized by the utilization of the direct popular vote. This method came under consideration at the Constitutional Convention and was not accepted at that time for other reasons. The present general ticket system operates contrary to the concept of federalism by giving the large states undue weight in the electoral process. The federal principle has it strongest and primary protection through the U. S. Senate which is the
ARGUMENTS IN OPPOSITION TO THE NATIONWIDE POPULAR VOTE - It would strike a fatal blow to the concept of
a blow to state power. - The relative weight of each state's vote would
depend not on its population, but on the number
states. - Nominees for the Presidency would most likely
come from larger states, or from larger ideolo-
state" for its candidate. - Because of the opposition of the small states, a
direct popular election amendment could never be ratified, regardless of its merits. About twothirds of the states would lose the built-in advantage they now enjoy in the electoral college through the two electoral votes accorded the states, regardless of size, eqiuvalent to their two U. S. Senators.