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Alternative modes of election

The Creation of the Electoral College

by Dr Nicholas Cole (npcole)

Cite as: Dr Nicholas Cole, ‘Alternative modes of election’ in N. P. Cole, Grace Mallon and Kat Howarth, The Creation of the Electoral College, Quill Project at Pembroke College (Oxford, 2017), item 184.

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Alternative modes of election


Elseworth's proposal here suggests two alternative modes of election. The default would have been to allow the National Legislature to choose the president, but that in the special case that the president was eligible re-election, the choice would have been thrown instead to electors in the states. Elseworth's explanation for this suggestion is recorded as being that "By this means a deserving Magistrate may be reelected without making him dependent on the Legislature."

The assumption here is that a president seeking re-election needed to be defended from the legislature, who might be trusted to choose a president in the first place, but which could not be trusted not to threaten a president with replacement. It is, perhaps, therefore assumed that electors in the states could be better trusted to vote to maintain a president in office, even if they were not the most suitable or expedient body to choose him in the first place. Likewise, a president who showed insufficient independence from the legislature might, presumably, be removed by these electors.

As with other proposals that were not pursued, many practical details remain unclear, and without a great deal of further work the safeguards intended here seem unworkable. Would the second mode of election have been triggered even if a serving president refused to stand again? Could a president resign before the end of his term, hoping that the legislature would reselect him without the need for the second process? As a means either of preserving the independence of the president on the one hand or of ensuring that the president had clear authority on the other, this proposal seems deficient.

What it does show, however, is a concern not with a theory of representation as such but with a much more practical set of concerns: how might a worthy president be chosen who would enjoy a meaningful degree of independence?

Approved for publication