Dear 100 Hour Board,
I’m trying to be more politically minded these days, and I’ve been trying to understand some history. What was the purpose of the electoral college? I’ve always understood it was supposed to protect the election from corruption, but I don’t understand how the electoral college actually changes the principles of the election. I guess what I’m trying to understand is: what scenario did the founding fathers worry about where corruption would cause the popular vote to be different from the electoral vote? Because that seems like an unlikely scenario back then, and if the corruption was widespread, that would still flip the electors… am I missing something?
Dear I'm Just a Bill,
In addition to what my fellow writers discussed, the electoral college was only adopted because of the infamous 3/5ths Compromise. Before this compromise was agreed upon, slaveholder states (which were largely populated by slaves, of course) would have a very small voting population and thus would have only a small number of electoral votes. The 3/5ths Compromise changed that, as each slave now counted as 3/5ths of a person in regard to calculating electoral votes. In other words, more electoral votes would be controlled by the same number of voters as before, granting slaveholder states additional voting weight. So, a large part of the adoption and continuance of the electoral college was to give slave holders a leg up in the federal government. This article from Time explains the history in more detail, if you're interested.
This 5-minute youtube video sums it up pretty well, but I can give a little summary, along with some of my opinion.
It was heavily believed by the Federalist party that the common people couldn't be relied upon to vote, and so electors would be more trusted than the general population to figure out the complicated system of politics. The average person (meaning a white, male landowner who was allowed to vote) wasn't actively involved in the political system, especially because of the slowness of communication, and possibly because of the newness of democracy, meaning that people were not super well informed and might not have expected to have an effect in national politics. By having electors, people in states entrusted their vote to someone they presumably believed would best represent their interests in Washington, where they would have access to the newest and most correct information.
One other note is that electors aren't actually elected by the people, but usually by the parties in the states where they are voted for (see "Nomination" in the Wikipedia article about the electoral college).
To answer the final portion of your question, I was unable to find any link between the creation of the electoral college and reduction of corruption within the voting system. If anything, because of faithless electors, it is theoretically possible to affect the election more by corrupting a select few people rather than the general population.
I think that our political system still largely works under the current situation, but it's interesting to think about how the founding fathers meant for us to be represented versus the current state of things.
A final connected thought: One thing my brother pointed out in a discussion earlier this week was that even the system by which we are represented is a little weird, having two senators from each state. He pointed out that if we believe in the United States as a collection of states, we would want a reasonable representation for each state no matter their population, but for where we are, we function much more as a single nation than as a collection of states.