ArtII.S1.C2.2 Historical Background on Electors Appointments Clause

Article II, Section 1, Clause 2:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

One of the key compromises of the Constitutional Convention was the appointment of electors to elect the President and Vice President. The delegates adopted the plan late in the Convention, having voted on four previous occasions for Congress to select the Executive and twice defeating proposals for direct election by the people.1 As such, the Electors Appointment clause effected a compromise between selecting the President pursuant to a popular election or leaving Congress to determine the President. In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story explained that the Framers viewed having an electoral college select the President rather than Congress would commit the decision “to persons, selected for that sole purpose . . . instead of persons, selected for the general purposes of legislation” 2 and would avoid “those intrigues and cabals, which would be promoted in the legislative body by artful and designing men, long before the period of the choice, with a view to accomplish their own selfish purposes.” 3

While Justice Story noted that the Framers had viewed the electoral college as preserving the President from becoming “the mere tool of the dominant part in congress,” 4 the development of political parties during the early years of the Republic and their role in nominating presidential candidates and designating electors meant that electors, as a practical matter, were subject to partisan politics.5 In 1826, Senator Thomas Hart Benton observed that, while the Framers had intended electors to be men of “superior discernment, virtue, and information,” who would select the President free from partisan influence, “this invention has failed of its objective in every election . . . .” Senator Benton further explained: “That it ought to have failed is equally uncontestable; for such independence in the electors was wholly incompatible with the safety of the people. [It] was, in fact, a chimerical and impractical idea in any community.” 6

By 1832, almost all states had adopted popular presidential elections, and “[b]y the early 20th century, citizens in most States voted for the presidential candidate himself; ballots increasingly did not even list the electors.” 7 Instead, parties chose slates of electors, and states then appointed the electors proposed by the party whose presidential nominee won the popular vote statewide.8

1 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 21, 68–69, 80–81, 175–76, 230, 244 (Max Farrand ed., 1911); 2 id. at 29–32, 57–59, 63–64, 95, 99–106, 108–15, 118–21, 196–97, 401–04, 497, 499–502, 511–15, 522–29. See also 3 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1449 (1833). back
Id., at § 1450. back
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See James Ceaser, Presidential Selection: Theory and Development (1979); Neal Pierce, The Peoples President: The Electoral College in American History and the Direct-Vote Alternative (1968). back
S. Rep. No. 22, at 4 (1826). back
Chiafalo v. Washington, No. 19-465, slip op. at 4 (U.S. July 6, 2020). back
Id. back