From May through September of 1787 fifty-five men, representing 12 of the 13 states, met in Philadelphia to write a new document to become the foundational law of the land. They also needed to devise a process through which it would be accepted/ratified by a majority of the states. Quite a summer project! The result was the Constitution of the United States of America. It became accepted largely because of its several major compromises.
The Constitution said that a slave was counted as 3/5 of a person (Article I, Section 2). That was a compromise between the states with economies built upon slavery and the other states. The US addressed that compromise with a devastating civil war and with the 14th amendment to the Constitution (1868).
Political parties are not mentioned in the Constitution. All electors cast votes for the president. The person receiving the most votes became president. The person receiving the second highest number of votes became vice-president (Article II, Section 1). It soon became clear that this system was unworkable! (Can you imagine a Trump-Clinton administration?!) The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists did not work well together in the earliest administrations, so that was changed by the 12th amendment in 1804.
There are two senators from each state. That pleased the smaller states and gave them equal power in one part of Congress. The states with greater population were given greater numbers in the House of Representatives. That pleased the larger states. An effective compromise that had the necessary “something for everybody.”
The Electoral College was a similar compromise (Article II, Section 1). President and Vice-president would not be elected directly by popular vote. They would be chosen indirectly by votes of electors chosen by each state. “Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof shall direct, a number of Electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the Congress….”
The Electoral College process for determining president and vice-president has five times led to the candidate receiving the greatest number of votes of the citizens not becoming president. Those elections were in 1824 (John Quincy Adams), 1876 (Rutherford B. Hayes), 1888 (Benjamin Harrison), 2000 (George W. Bush), and 2016 (Donald Trump).
It is no longer necessary to choose electors young and strong enough to make it on horseback through winter sleet and storm on muddy byways to the capitol to cast their ballots. Voting could now be done digitally and instantly. Is it time to review the 1787 best practices for electing the President of the United States? Is it time for the citizens of the nation to elect the president directly?
Delana Beaton is a retired public school counselor and history teacher. She is president of HomeBase Shelters of Salem, a nonprofit dedicated to serving the homeless. She serves on the Marion Polk Counties Emergency Food and Shelter Board. Delana holds masters degrees in history and in counseling. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.