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How Did We End Up With the Electoral College?

How and why did we end up with the Electoral College? John Huston and Reeve Huston discussed.
John Huston and Reeve Huston

The recent presidential election has left the United States split, with many pleading for Electoral College voters to abandon their pledged votes, and others excited for what President-elect Donald Trump will change about what it means to be a politician.

To those now agitating for electors to shift their vote away from Trump, Duke political scientist John Aldrich has some bad news.

“We have a better chance of seeing a dinosaur walking around in downtown Raleigh than we do to see an organized change of electoral votes that would result in a different outcome,” Aldrich said Wednesday during a lunchtime conversation about the Electoral College sponsored by Duke’s Forum for Scholars and Publics.

Aldrich and Duke historian Reeve Huston discussed how and why the Electoral College was conceived, how it acts today, and whether or not it is politically sustainable going forward.           

The Electoral College format was created by the Founding Fathers in the U.S. Constitution to create proper democratic mediation, Aldrich said. It went okay – for a while.

“It served the purpose for which it was formed for eight years until a bipartisan system rendered it arbitrary,” Aldrich said.

While the college is often criticized following close elections, said any institutional replacement would come with its own problems. It would take a monumental, conjoined and lengthy effort to remove an entity that is so engrained in our election system, they warned.

Added Aldrich: “We need a system that starts from an early age that informs people, ‘You are citizens more than you are consumers. You are participatory citizens in a democratic government.’”