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Public Affairs

The Electoral College was a failure almost from the get-go. So why are we still using it?

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The Electoral College was never intended to be the “perfect” system for picking the president, says George Edwards III, emeritus political science professor at Texas A&M University.  “It wasn’t like the Founders said, ‘Hey, what a great idea! This is the preferred way to select the chief executive, period,’” says Edwards. “They were tired, impatient, frustrated. They cobbled together this plan because they couldn’t agree on anything else.”

- The History Channel

The idea was simple.  Maybe not a great idea, but simple.  The Founding Father's didn't place a lot of stock in public opinion, and were worried about uninformed voters making a bad choice.  So each state was allowed to select their own independent "electors" who would do the actual voting for president.

But that was in the halcyon days before the rise of political parties. Nowadays, electors are basically proxies for their political parties and we're left with a system that has - twice in 20 years - delivered a defeat to the presidential candidate with the most votes.

Why does that matter?  Dr. Joel Sipress says for one thing, it destablizes our entire system of democracy.

After our interview, Joel checked on the status of Minnesota and Wisconsin with regard to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, and neither state has approved it. States representing 196 electoral votes have approved it, but  270 is the threshold for it to kick in. You can find out more about the compact here.

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