CRF Blog

Whither the Electoral College?

by Damon Huss

A few days ago, the Massachusetts State Senate passed National Popular Vote legislation, which proposes that the electors of Massachusetts will vote for the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote (the majority of individual votes in all the states). The bill is intended to circumvent the Electoral College. Similar bills have been approved in at least five other states.

In teaching middle school U.S. history, I always found the Electoral College to be one of the most difficult constitutional concepts to explain to students. In a nutshell, Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, of the U.S. Constitution establishes that the president shall not be chosen by national popular vote. Instead, each state shall choose its own electors, who shall, in turn, vote for the president.

Inevitably, students’ questions arose: Who are the electors? How are they chosen? Why did the Founding Fathers include this in the Constitution in the first place? If electors vote the way the people in their state vote, then why is the Electoral College necessary?

CRF has some free resources to help explain this significant facet of federalism in the Constitution:

Closest Presidential Election? in CRF’s Election Central helps explain the origins of the Electoral College, why it exists, and also how it played a crucial role in the elections of 1824 and 2000. There is a simulation activity in which students role-play members of the House of Representatives during a hotly contested (hypothetical) 2000 election.

How Political Parties Began in Bill of Rights in Action (Fall 2008) explains how the 12th Amendment changed the way that the Electoral College voted for president and vice president, making political parties a key part of our federal election system.