Indirect vs. Direct Election - A Discussion


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Profile thorin belvrog
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Message 601691 - Posted: 11 Jul 2007, 8:53:53 UTC

I know that the indirect elections via Electors are an indivisible part of the US Constitution, and I don't want to question the Constitution.

But: coming from another country where the election systems are different, I want to know:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of indirect election in comparison to a real direct election in which all voters vote for a president for example?
I mean, could it be possible that the Electors vote otherwise than the majority of their voters would do? If not, how is it assured?
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Message 601906 - Posted: 11 Jul 2007, 18:29:57 UTC - in response to Message 601691.
Last modified: 11 Jul 2007, 18:35:23 UTC

I know that the indirect elections via Electors are an indivisible part of the US Constitution, and I don't want to question the Constitution.

But: coming from another country where the election systems are different, I want to know:
What are the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of indirect election in comparison to a real direct election in which all voters vote for a president for example?
I mean, could it be possible that the Electors vote otherwise than the majority of their voters would do? If not, how is it assured?


Thorin, great questions!

It all boils down to the questions 'who elects the President?' and 'why is it this way?'.

First, 'Who elects the President?'. The Constitution places the power to choose the President with the various State Legislatures. While the various State Legislatures have traditionally held 'popularity contests' on 'Election Day' to choose their Electors, they are not Constitutionally required to do so. It is totally Constitutional for a State's Legislature to vote among themselves to choose who their Electors would vote for in the Electorial College.

Second, 'Why is it this way?'. Pardon me a moment while I set up some background information so that I can effectively answer this question.

When the US Constitution was being written, its authors had in mind a system of checks and balances. These checks and balances were not only between the three branches of Government (Executive, Legislative, and Judicial), but also between the 'Large' states (high population) and 'Small' states (relatively low population). Additionally, the checks and balances were between the people and their State Governments. They wanted to preserve the rights of the less populous States in the face of possible abuses of power by the more populous States. Also, they wanted to give the People at least some direct voice in the Federal Government, but still leave the various State Governments a voice, since, after all, the USA was a Union between the various State Governments, and not directly a Union between the People themselves.

In the Legislative branch of the Federal Government, The House of Representatives was to represent the People. Each State was to receive a number of seats in the House in proportion to their population, and each state was to divide itself up into a number of districts with roughly equivalent population, and was to hold elections in each district to choose that district's representative. The House was supposed to be the Voice of the People in the Federal Government, and as such was given some exclusive powers such as the Power of the Purse. All revenue (tax) legislation MUST originate in the House. The House also favored the large states, since the large states would have more population therefore more Representatives.

Again, in the Legislative branch, the Senate was originally to represent the State Governments. Two Senators were to be chosen by each State's Government. The Senate was given exclusive oversight powers dealing with Foreign Affairs and Political Appointments. The Senate, because of each State having equal numbers of Senators, favored the smaller, less populous States. As I said this was 'originally'. In the Seventeenth Amendment (ratified in 1913), election of Senators was changed to a direct election by the people. The Senate still balances the large States and small States, but the State Governments no longer have direct control in choosing their Senators, and can only do so in an emergency, such as appointing a Senator to fill the remainder of a term left vacant due to, for instance, death of the elected Senator.

Ok, enough background and on to your question. The President was originally, and still is, chosen by the various State Governments in election in the Electoral College. I believe that it is important that it remain so. The Presidential Election is virtually the only remaining direct Voice the State Governments have in the Federal Government. Remember, the USA is a Union between the various State Governments, not directly between the People. Also remember, that the various State Governments are not some outside 'boogie-men', but are themselves chosen by the People in their respective States. Layering of Governmental Power on several levels (Federal, State, and various more 'local' forms such as counties, cities, and school districts) is important. As more power and authority is concentrated in any one particular level of Government, it becomes more and more difficult to prevent abuses of that power. Let us not further marginalize the State Governments. We might need them someday (if not already) to stand up to the Federal Government and say 'Wait just a %$&#$$ minute! You aren't getting away with that!'.

As to making sure that Electors vote the way they are 'supposed to', most all states have laws requiring the Electors to do so. Failure to do so would subject that Elector to criminal penalty.

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Message 602432 - Posted: 12 Jul 2007, 18:11:49 UTC

I think they oughta do away with electors. The popular vote is the vote and approximating that with electors destroys the accuracy of the vote. All the states (or political subdivisions of other countries) need to do is tally up their votes, one sum for each state, and send that number into central headquarters for a final addition and sum.
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Message 602584 - Posted: 12 Jul 2007, 23:50:10 UTC - in response to Message 602432.
Last modified: 12 Jul 2007, 23:55:25 UTC

I think they oughta do away with electors. The popular vote is the vote and approximating that with electors destroys the accuracy of the vote. All the states (or political subdivisions of other countries) need to do is tally up their votes, one sum for each state, and send that number into central headquarters for a final addition and sum.


First of all, we are not discussing other countries here, only the USA. Other country's election systems, even forms of government, are very different. Second, what you propose would be a fundamental change in the way that the President is elected (as in 'who' elects the President).

Currently, the President is elected by the various State Legislatures (not the people) through the Electoral College. By tradition and custom, the various State Governments hold 'popularity contests' for President on Election Day (what some people, in error, call the 'popular vote'), to decide who that particular State Legislature will vote for in the Electoral College. However, the US Constitution does not require this. It is equally acceptable to the Constitution for any particular State Legislature to simply vote amongst themselves to decide.

Each State Legislature gets a number of votes equal to the number of people they have in Congress. That is the number of Senators (2) plus the number of Representatives in the House. Also, for the purposes of the Electoral College, the national capitol district is considered a state, and has a number of total votes equal to the total of the least populous State, namely 3.

There is NO nationwide popular vote for President. National popular vote totals don't matter a tinker's ****. The Electoral College system helps the lesser populated states be relevant during an election because of the slightly inflated number of votes that the lesser populated states have (minimum of 3) in the Electoral College, as compared to their actual percentage of the nation's population. People in different States have different needs and issues. The Electoral College system forces Presidential Candidates to travel to various lesser populated states to campaign, therefore hearing their issues and potentially making policy to address them after being elected. Granted this system is not perfect, but it is a whole lot better than what the alternative system would lead to.

A system of direct election of the President would lead to the Candidates only being active during the campaign in the larger populated states, such as New York and California, bypassing all the smaller populated states such as the Dakotas and Montana even more than they do now. Plus, switching to a system of direct election would deprive the various State Governments of virtually their LAST (even potential) voice in the Federal Government. Remember, the USA is a Union of the various States, not a direct Union of the People. Our political system is built on the division of power and authority among several levels of Government, with each level being responsible and accountable to those directly below it. This system has been damaged over the last century or so by the concentration of power in Washington DC, with what many would say disastrous consequences. Do we really wish to wreck it even further?

Message boards : Politics : Indirect vs. Direct Election - A Discussion

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