What advantages did the founding fathers see in electoral college that made them pick it over other potential voting systems?
I'll quote my answer from a related question:
When the Constitution was written in 1787, information traveled much more slowly than it does today, and the framers believed that most people would not be well-informed about issues and candidates outside of their own state. Consequently, rather than having people vote directly for the President, they instead had people vote for electors, who would be prominent, well-informed citizens of their respective states. The idea was that people would vote for electors whom they generally agreed with and would trust to make the right decision. Electors would then use their individual judgment in voting for President.
There are two other things that should also be noted:
- The Constitution doesn't actually say anything about how electors should be chosen. This is left to individual states, which can use any method they want—and they don't have to hold a general election. Early in the country's history, electors in the majority of states were chosen by vote of the state legislature, not by the people directly. Gradually, direct election became the norm.
- Under the Constitution, if no single candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the President is chosen from among the top three candidates by vote of the House of Representatives, "the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote." The framers did not anticipate the formation of a two-party system, so it may have been thought that this outcome would be typical rather than extraordinary. In that case, the Electoral College would have been a system for nominating presidential candidates, with the House actually choosing the President.
In short, the Electoral College was designed to balance the desire for a democratically elected executive with the distrust of the common people held by some of the framers.
One element overrode everything else, and it is embedded in the structure of the Electoral College:
As a Union of States, how should we best balance two competing interests?
- The states represent real people -- populations.
- The states represent real perspectives -- today, 50+ different state governments.
Back then, as today, some states are quite urban with large populations. Other states are very rural, with small population (yet large amounts of land that must be stewarded.)
The founders eventually realized they already had solved this question, in the design of the two-body legislature:
- The House is set up with proportionality to state populations. Populous states have more representatives, rural states fewer. Several states have only one representative in the House.
- The Senate is set up with proportionality to the number of states. Every state has two senators, no matter their population. (And, originally, the state legislatures directly appointed senators! They were to represent the perspective of the state gov't, at the federal level.)
Hence, the obvious, simple result for the Electoral College: the number of electors for each state = (# House Reps) + (# Senators).
It's exactly the same representation as the combined houses of congress.
I'll quote Federalist #68, which presents other arguments as well (a lot of concern about mischief of all kinds ;) ):
"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States."