There are a lot of different claims about why the Electoral College exists here in the United States. The arguments from Wikipedia from supporters states:
Supporters argue that it is a fundamental component of American federalism. They maintain the system elected the winner of the nationwide popular vote in over 90% of presidential elections; promotes political stability; preserves the Constitutional role of the states in presidential elections; and fosters a broad-based, enduring, and generally moderate political party system.
I’m going to go down these arguments one by one.
Over 90% accuracy
This is true, it rarely skews from the winner of the popular vote.
Promotes Political Stability
That must be why we had massive political protests after the 2016 election and why after losing the popular vote President Bush signed into law the PATRIOT ACT, effectively suspending parts of the Constitution through a vague unachievable goal in a war we will never win. Stability doesn’t mean good. It also doesn’t promote more stability compared to other democracies.
Constitutional role of the states in presidential elections
This is a deontological argument. There has been a long standing thread in American politics which argues that states needs rights. Who controls the states? Historically the rich and powerful who are more likely to be involved in state level politics, while most people ignore them.
Also, the Senate used to be elected by state legislatures, so the Constitutional role of states has fundamentally changed since our founding.
Fosters a broad-based, enduring and generally moderate political party system
There is nothing moderate about the PATRIOT ACT, which wouldn’t exist if we did not have the electoral college.
Forces candidates to look at less populated states
This is simply not the case if you look at where the money goes. Money and campaign visits get concentrated in the handful of states which are most likely going to tip. States like California, New York, Wyoming, and North Dakota are always ignored. Even Maine and New Hampshire despite being swing states barely get any campaign visits.
If Joe Biden wins both North Carolina and Florida on Tuesday, he could win without winning a single state which has fewer than 10 electoral college votes.
Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com
The Electoral College makes small states irrelevant for the Presidency.
The Horrible Truth
So, if those arguments are not the reason for the electoral college, we have to start by outlining why we have the system we do today and understand the two basic ways heads of government are generally selected.
Democracies generally fit into one of two camps when it comes to the selection of their head of government. You are generally either a Presidential democracy where the head of government is elected by the people, or you are a Parliamentary or Semi-Presidential democracy where the head of government is selected by the parliament. Presidential democracies dominate in the Americas, Parliamentary and Semi-Presidential systems dominate in Europe.
America is a unique Presidential democracy in how we have the electoral college between the people and the President.
When our country was founded, 17.8% of the population was enslaved (according to the 1790 census). These slaves were concentrated in the south of course, with as many as 43% of South Carolina’s population being enslaved and 292,627 slaves in Virginia. The Founding Fathers needed to find a way to elect a head of government in a way which preserved slave power, and the Great Compromise.
Parliamentary democracies usually elect their head of government by a simple majority of one house of their parliament. This person is generally called a Prime Minister. Pretty simple.
But the United States is more complicated and relatively unusual because we have two coequal branches of our legislative body. If only one branch of Congress elected the president, the coequality would be immediately thrown out of whack.
This led to several options. Having eligible voters do a direct vote could not work and still preserve slave power because it would undo the 3/5 compromise which entrenched slave power at the time. This preservation of slave power is why we do not elect our President directly
So, in order to preserve the delicate balance needed to prevent fracturing the country and having coequal branches the Electoral College was designed. Each state has a number of votes equal to its representation of congress which dilutes the power of cities and increases the power of slave owners, and those members vote for the President. A simple majority is required to elect a president and if no majority is achieved then the Senate selects the President and the House selects the Vice President (this system has been modified since our country was founded).
The main takeaway is that the Electoral College exists to protect slavery.
But notice that note… The electoral college has already been changed in how it works. Every state votes for the President now and the electors vote like the citizens of the state by custom. That by itself is not how the Electoral College worked in the beginning when State Legislatures decided how their electors would be determined.
We changed the Electoral College.
It was designed to preserve an institution which is now extinct.
We can abolish the Electoral College as soon as we recognize as a nation the evil reason why it existed in the first place.
Slavery will never be truly extinct as long as the Electoral College survives.