Model Citizen

Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?

Episode Summary

Will Wilkinson discusses the book "Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?" with author Alexander Keyssar, an award-winning Harvard historian.

Episode Notes

If winning the most votes made you president, Joe Biden would have it in the bag by now. But voters don't get to pick the president here in America. The Electoral College does. Which is why Biden's supporters can't rest easy, even though it's a lock that he'll win the popular vote. Donald Trump, who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, owes his presidency this baffling, archaic kludge of an institution and he's still got an outside shot at a second term because of it. So why did our blessed Founders saddle us with the Electoral College? Why is it still there, despite many efforts through the years to reshape or kill it? 

This week's guest, Alexander Keyssar wrote a book, "Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College?" to answer precisely this question. We discuss how the Electoral College was a makeshift afterthought compromise at the Constitutional Convention, how its half-baked rules of the Electoral College almost immediately threw presidential elections into disarray, how it spurred the creation of political parties (despite the Founder's intentions), why the states converged on winner-take-all rules for the allocation of electoral votes rather than settling on district-based or proportional schemes, and much more. Why did later attempts to replace the Electoral College with a national popular vote fail? Are future attempts incredibly unlikely, or is it much more likely than you think? We talk about that, too. 

Alexander Keyssar is the Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at the Harvard Kennedy school for government. He's the author of many distinguished works of history, including the "The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States," a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.   


Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College by Alexander Keyssar

Host: Will Wilkinson (@willwilkinson)

Audio engineer: Ray Ingegneri

Music: Dig Deep by RW Smith

Model Citizen is a production of the Niskanen Center  (@niskanencenter)

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