Every four years there is a feigned public outcry about the electoral college system. This outcry usually comes either about six weeks prior to or three days after a presidential election. Those doing the screaming are always from the political party that is either about to lose or has just lost. Neither will ever actually believe in their own professed outrage.
As this noise travels through our newscasts, the inevitable question is, "Why do we use such an antiquated system to elect our president?" The usual arguments are then presented. Popular vote is being disenfranchised, the big states are being underrepresented, and the ever popular claim that under this oppressive system peoples votes simply don't count.
The key question never seems to get asked. What is the electoral college and why does it exist in the first place? What the electoral college is, above all things, is a compromise. Actually, it is THE compromise. There is a very good chance that, without the electoral college, our nation may have never been formed.
During the lengthy debate that resulted in the US Constitution, there were many issues that had to be hammered out. Compromises were constantly being reached throughout this process as one state's concerns ran headlong into the needs of other states. This was a lively, give-and-take process with each participant essentially equal in power with one another.
These people, however, were a farsighted bunch. They looked long into the future as they struggled to form the basis of the governing body for this yet to be formed nation. They understood the problems it had experienced under the Articles of Confederation. They needed all of the recognized states needed to sign on to this new style of government in order for it to survive. Unfortunately, certain states had some very specific fears.
Foremost of these fears was that the smaller, less populous states would have no voice in a purely democratic government. The larger states felt that their greater representation of the citizens ought to have an equally strong voice in whatever government they finally formed. Out of these concerns were created the methods for populating the two houses of congress.
The Senate would have greater overall power and would contain two representatives from each state. This allowed equal representation, regardless of a state's size or population.
The House, though given slightly less power, would have its representation based solely on a state's population, allowing the larger states to have their greater number of citizens recognized but not in a way that would make them unstoppable, thus allaying the fears of the smaller states.
This compromise is what made it palatable for the smaller, less populous states, to join into a union with a centralized federal government. They now knew that their voices would be able to be heard. Without this agreement, they would have been fools to become part of the United States of America.
When it came time to decide how to elect the leader of this new nation, the same fears cropped back up. How, in a simple election, would they ever get a president not hand picked by the large cities of the union?
The problem had already been solved through the process used to populate congress so the decision was made to simply use these same calculations to create an electoral college. This gave each state the same number of votes as they had members of the two houses of congress thus eliminating the danger of our nations course being decided by a handful of large cities every four years.
The electoral college exists because it is the only way to guarantee each state a voice in our presidential elections. Without it, we would be a nation run by the whims and desires of our nine largest cities. The electoral college exists as one of the last remaining reminders that were are a republic, not a democracy, and for very good reasons. This nation was created on the philosophy that there are certain liberties that cannot be put to a vote and it is institutions like the electoral college system that protect us from ourselves.