Electoral College History
How did we get the Electoral College?
The Founding Fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution, in part, as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. However, the term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.”
Since the Electoral College process is part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution it would be necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment to change this system.
The ratification of the 12th Amendment, the expansion of voting rights, and the States’ use of the popular vote to determine who will be appointed as electors have each substantially changed the process.
Many different proposals to alter the Presidential election process have been offered over the years, such as direct nation-wide election by the eligible voters, but none has been passed by Congress and sent to the States for ratification as a Constitutional amendment. Under the most common method for amending the Constitution, an amendment must be proposed by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress and ratified by three-fourths of the States.
What proposals have been made to change the Electoral College process?
Reference sources indicate that over the past 200 years more than 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. There have been more proposals for Constitutional amendments on changing the Electoral College than on any other subject. The American Bar Association has criticized the Electoral College as “archaic” and “ambiguous” and its polling showed 69 percent of lawyers favored abolishing it in 1987. But surveys of political scientists have supported continuation of the Electoral College. Public opinion polls have shown Americans favored abolishing it by majorities of 58 percent in 1967; 81 percent in 1968; and 75 percent in 1981.
Opinions on the viability of the Electoral College system may be affected by attitudes toward third parties. Third parties have not fared well in the Electoral College system. For example, third party candidates with regional appeal, such as Governor Thurmond in 1948 and Governor Wallace in 1968, won blocs of electoral votes in the South, but neither come close to seriously challenging the major party winner, although they may have affected the overall outcome of the election.
The last third party, or splinter party, candidate to make a strong showing was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 (Progressive, also known as the Bull Moose Party). He finished a distant second in Electoral and popular votes (taking 88 of the 266 electoral votes needed to win at the time). Although Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote nationwide in 1992, he did not win any electoral votes since he was not particularly strong in any one state. In 2016, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate, qualified for the ballot in all 50 States and the District of Columbia but also failed to win any electoral votes.
Any candidate who wins a majority or plurality of the popular vote nationwide has a good chance of winning in the Electoral College, but there are no guarantees (see the results of 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 elections).
Where can I find the names and voting records of presidential electors for all previous Presidential elections back to 1789?
OFR is not aware of a centralized, comprehensive source.
This website lists links to State websites relating to the presidential election. Maryland has posted the names and voting records of its electors on the web.
How many times has the Vice President been chosen by the U.S. Senate?
Once. In the Presidential election of 1836, the election for Vice President was decided in the Senate. Martin Van Buren’s running mate, Richard M. Johnson, fell one vote short of a majority in the Electoral College. Vice Presidential candidates Francis Granger and Johnson had a run-off in the Senate under the 12th Amendment, where Johnson was elected 33 votes to 17.