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The President to be chosen by the State Governors

The Creation of the Electoral College

by Dr Nicholas Cole (npcole)

Cite as: Dr Nicholas Cole, ‘The President to be chosen by the State Governors’ in N. P. Cole, Grace Mallon and Kat Howarth, The Creation of the Electoral College, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2017), item 183.

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The President to be chosen by the State Governors


It is unclear whether this proposal even secured a seconder. By the time that it was put in this form, there had already been considerable debate, even though the final form of the electoral college was not yet settled. It is possible that there was no appetite for this proposal, which shows a curious deference to state executive officers on the one hand, and yet is eager that they do not act alone -- to the point of specifying separate arrangements depending upon whether a state's governor was already advised by a council. With several competing suggestions already vying for support, this proposal added another option without necessarily meeting any of the objections that were preventing agreement to one of the alternatives.

Perhaps most curiously of all, it appears to be worded in a way that would have seen the governors cast weighted votes -- in effect anticipating a 'winner-takes-all' approach to allocating the states' votes in the electoral college that would eventually become the norm.

Still, a proposal to vest one person with more than one vote is unusual. It sits poorly with republican principles of equality and majority rule, even if trying to give particular communities greater voice. The usual republican method to achieve this end was to find a way of constituting a body in such a way that the individuals within it could each cast a single vote but that the composition of the assembly itself would achieve the weighting sought.

Nevertheless, the link between an individual and a vote was not impossible to break. There were examples where groups of people would agree to cast a collective vote. The delegations to the Convention itself were an example of this, as were the state delegations to the Articles of Confederation Congress -- each state's delegation would agree the delegation's vote. Such a procedure, however, was familiar to achieve an equality of voting between delegations of variable size, where many members of a delegation agreed to cast a single vote. To allow an individual to cast weighted vote would have been much more unusual.

Nor is it easy to follow the thinking behind this proposal, or what benefit it conferred over the competing suggestion to allow state legislatures to choose electors. What did the advice and consent of a council amount to? Presumably that they were able to veto the decision of the governor at the very least. At most, perhaps that there would be a vote within the council to allocate the state's electoral votes.

The possibilities are intriguing. The proposal would have created in each state a small assembly, headed by the governor (presumably thought of here as the representative of his state) to debate how to allocate the state's votes for the president. The practical effects of this proposal would have turned on who wrote the precise rules for the operation of this group. It might have been left to the states themselves (as the choice of the members of the electoral college would be in the final document), but this suggestion does anticipate a certain amount of Federal oversight, since it makes a distinction between those states with executive councils and those without.

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