“The electoral system gives a structural advantage to the Republican Party”

Tribune. Why are the US presidential elections decided by a ” Electoral College “ ? The question has been asked extensively in recent weeks, just like in 2016, when Hillary Clinton was defeated by Donald Trump in number of delegates – 304 against 227 – yet having 3 million votes more than his opponent. Does this mean that the electoral college would be undemocratic?

Many think so, but yet this was not the intention of the Founding Fathers when they included this college in the Constitution. According to Article II, section 1, each state has as many electors as representatives and senators in Congress (a total of 538 nowadays), and it is the assembly of each state which is free to determine the way they are designated. Their function is to elect the president – and, until the 12e amendment of 1804, the vice president – depending on the election results in their state.

Frame the excesses of opinion

The electoral college was therefore a mechanism of indirect suffrage. Like other institutions such as the Senate, the Presidency and the Supreme Court, it was intended to limit the excesses of public opinion. The drafters of the Constitution indeed created a republic where the popular will is certainly sovereign, but filtered, refined and improved by several institutional screens. This sophistication was sharply criticized for its aristocratic, even monarchist overtones. But if the presidency, the Senate or the Supreme Court were denounced by opponents of the draft Constitution, this was not the case with the electoral college. This was because the latter had to be appointed by freely elected assemblies and masters of procedure. Very quickly, moreover, several of them chose to transfer the decision to the voters. Above all, the Founding Fathers considered that the large voters would be distributed according to constituencies that the states would have defined, in order to allow a relatively proportional allocation, like what is done in Maine and Nebraska today.

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However, the founders did not anticipate that partisan “factions” – ancestors of our political parties – would quickly become decisive actors in public life. From 1800, Thomas Jefferson [troisième président des Etats-Unis], leader of the Republican Party at the time and facing a difficult election, convinced delegates from his state of Virginia, who were all in favor, that they would have a better chance of winning the election if they agreed to vote as a whole and not to be distributed by constituency.

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