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May 21 2019

Legal Brief: The Electoral College

by Jennifer C. Braceras

American presidential elections are not perfect. Many Americans have legitimate concerns about the lengthy nominating process, party rules, and the undue influence of the media and special interest groups. Voting procedures sometimes allow fraud or hinder accessibility. Our campaign finance laws can be simultaneously insufficient and overbroad.

But in a presidential election process that is unpredictable and, in many ways, in need of repair, one enduring feature provides stability and makes us truly a nation of united states: the Electoral College.

Under the Electoral College system, voters elect the President of the United States, not in one massive nationwide election, but in 51 democratic elections in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Based on the results of those individual elections, “electors” from each jurisdiction cast direct votes for President. The process by which the electors cast their ballots is known as the “Electoral College.”

The goal of this system, enshrined in our Constitution, is to ensure that the President is elected with broad national appeal (as opposed to deep regional support). In this way, the Electoral College helps binds us together as a nation.

Unfortunately, it has become popular in recent years to attack our Electoral College system as “undemocratic” and “an unnecessary vestige of the past.” While the Electoral College has, indeed, been around since the founding of our Republic, it is anything but undemocratic or unnecessary. Rather, it is an essential piece of our federalist system that provides a much needed check on the power of the majority (or even the plurality) over the rest of the nation.

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