In what way does this improve the representation of smaller states beyond what would be provided by a direct vote?


Historically, the Electoral system had an advantage in that Electors are people, each with a sense of agency and discretion. Though they are and were usually appointed with a presumptive vote in mind, they were true representatives in that they would make a multi-week journey to Washington (quite an imposition in the eighteenth century!) and see something of the candidates for themselves prior to finalizing their ballot. They were also capable of reacting to whichever unforeseen circumstances transpired in the meantime. For example, if one of the candidates were to be found dead prior to the Electors' assembly, then those Electors who had been chosen to cast a vote for the deceased candidate would be more able to discern the second-best choice than a big sack of votes. In this way, they could cast an undelayed ballot that was still more-or-less in keeping with their constituents' ultimate wishes.

It bears mentioning that a gentleman by the name of James Wilson actually did propose presidential election by direct vote during the Constitutional Convention. It was thrown out in committee by vote of 10-1. The thing to note, here, is that this opposition was even more overwhelming than it was for other methods that would have been proportional to population (such as the original "Virginia Plan"); This revels some of the concern that the framers had about how difficult it would for the entire public to keep themselves informed about issues of national importance. Representation was favored over referendums because it permitted for the common interests to be stewarded by political professionals.

In what way does this improve the representation of smaller states beyond what would be provided by a direct vote?

Electors are apportioned to the states by number equal to the sum of their number of Congressmen and Senators. Two senators are given to each state regardless of their population, so, though small states have fewer Electors than large states, the guaranteed two-vote kicker nudges the numbers a little bit towards their over-representation.

For example, let's say you had a hypothetical Commonwealth of Bigstate and he island of Littlestate, with populations of 100,000 and 25,000, respectively. Since Bigstate has four times the population of Littlestate, they get 4 members in the Hours of Representatives where Littlestate only gets 1. Both of them, however, get 2 Senators.

This means that Bigstate gets Six electoral votes, and Littlestate gets Four. This, in turn, means that Littlestate has 66% of the Electoral power that Bigstate has, even though they only have 25% of the population. A clear concession in their favor.

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Given the tags you've used, I assume a premise of your question is that these United States are a democracy. A direct vote would be very effective at demonstrating the will of the populace, providing rule by the decision of the majority.

Conversely, it must be stated that these United States are not a democracy. Rather, it is a Constitutional Representative Republic, with a leading concept that the inalienable rights of the populace, with specific interest for the disfavored minority, are better protected against the unlawful whims of the majority. With this in mind, the electoral college provides a protective measure for the representation provided to the less populated states against the encroaching whims of the larger states.

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The biggest advantage of the Electoral College system was that it allowed different states to have different requirements for voting. In practice, this allowed the following changes to happen gradually:

  • Reduction (and later elimination) of property-ownership requirements for voting.
  • Elimination of religious and/or racial requirements for voting.
  • Allowing women to vote.
  • Implementation of "registered voter" systems.
  • Reduction of voting age.
  • Implementation of mail-in voting.
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  • Are any of these advantages still present? – Philipp Dec 8 '15 at 18:54
  • @Philipp -- The "registered voter" systems are still being improved; the voting age could theoretically be reduced further; "mail-in voting" is still only partly implemented. Theoretically, "electronic voting" could be implemented gradually. Various states have various policies on whether convicted criminals are allowed to vote. – Jasper Dec 8 '15 at 19:33
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    @Phillip Some states have recently been making efforts to improve voting by requiring identification when a person votes to prevent voter fraud. – Readin Apr 8 '16 at 4:22

Imagine a close election in the absence of the electoral college. Illinois goes overwhelmingly D. Texas overwhelmingly goes R. The initial totals show R wins by a slim margin.

Suddenly more votes show u in Illinois that put D over the top. A few days later, a more votes show up from the remote regions of Texas that put R over the top. The next day someone finds several bags of votes in Chicago that someone neglected to count putting D over the top.

In other word, it benefits the smaller states by taking the politics out of vote counting in larger states.

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    Could you name any first world country without an electoral college which ever experienced that kind of manipulation attempts in the past decade? The only one I could think of were frequent recounts lead to an unclear election result was the presidential election of 2000 in... well... the United States. – Philipp Dec 8 '15 at 18:57
  • Well, thanks to the electoral college, at least that recount was limited to Florida. Imagine something like that nationwide. – D M May 2 '17 at 16:02

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