Letter: Our Founding Fathers didn’t intend winner-take-all system

From: Robert Campbell


Many Americans seem to be confused about the Electoral College. To understand its purpose, one should read The Federalist Papers written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. The U.S. Constitution had to be argued for to get it ratified by the 13 states, and that is what The Federalist Papers did.

The Founding Fathers created a constitutional republic, and they made a series of compromises to make it work. One was the Electoral College, designed to have independent electors choose the president of the United States. Their biggest consideration was the quality of the candidate and his popular vote. However, the Founding Fathers did not envision the development of the “winner-take-all system” that evolved in the next 50 years. Whoever gets the majority of vote in each state receives “all the electoral votes” of the state.

The winner-take-all system is not in the U.S. Constitution. Therefore it is quite possible to eliminate it without changing the U.S. Constitution. It is up to the states. Maine and Nebraska do not use it and have a system based on congressional districts. In the recent election in Maine, Hillary Clinton received three electoral votes and Donald Trump received one. Some argue that the real purpose of the Electoral College is to weaken the influence of large urban areas such as California and New York.

That is not true. James Madison clearly states that the biggest worry for the new republic was the threat of factions (political parties or interest groups) that would choose directly an unqualified person. Even today, in theory, electors in December can independently cast their vote. In fact, the electors are pawns of the political parties.

The other reason for the Electoral College came about from the three-fifths compromise. The southern states were concerned about their lack of representation in the new Congress and also the election of the president. A compromise that allowed them to count three-fifths of slaves as people was made so that they would have more representation.

The issue was not urban vs. rural representation, but large vs. small states. The Great Compromise settled that issue with allowing each state to have two senators and the House of Representatives to be based on the population of the states. What has evolved now is the current system that does not allow “one man (or woman) one vote.” None of the people in the great majority of our states have their vote cast in December if they voted for the Democratic candidate. That person did receive as many as 2 million more votes than her opponent. This is not majority rule, one of the great principles in the U.S. Constitution.

It is interesting that James Madison, in 1827, wrote a letter complaining about the “winner-take-all” system that prevented Andrew Jackson from being elected president in 1824. Americans should have this debate over the current system, and the best way to have an intelligent debate is improve civic education in the areas of history, government and economics.