There seems to be widespread feeling that the US Electoral College distorts the will of the people in presidential elections. Of course, that ability was part of the reason that our founding fathers introduced the system. But, ever since the rise of political parties and state laws restricting elector votes, the system doesn't do anything to provide the protections originally envisioned.

The major political parties don't seem to really want to get rid of the system for fear of causing unpredictable changes to their power. While one side or the other grumbles about the results of particular elections, no changes that I'm aware of in recent years has been seriously pushed.

Have there been reform campaigns in the past (not counting the 12th Amendment)? Why didn't they succeed?

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    This is a pet peeve of mine and while I wish there was a significant effort for reform there really hasn't been and with both existing parties entrenched in the current system I would not expect one. Not without a significant event that would cause people to seriously question the existing system and then maintain interest in changing it. Considering that we've already had 3 instances where the results of the EC were different than the popular vote I don't expect it.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Jan 30, 2012 at 9:57
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    I like the electoral college. Someone shouldn't become president simply because they managed to cowtow to the people in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles which is what would happen without the EC. The president is supposed to represent all the people, without the EC then only the people in the city would be represented.
    – Dunk
    Commented Feb 2, 2012 at 20:32
  • Yes, but that is the problem with the EC, you can win a majority in 13 states and become President. That is hardly representational of ALL the people. Strangely, those thirteen can encompass the states of all the cities you mention, so basically your scenario already happens.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 12:27
  • @MichaelF Not necessarily. All of those states have diverse interests and issues beyond the big cities. In 1984, NYC was a democratic stronghold, but the State of New York as a whole voted for Reagan. Commented Feb 3, 2012 at 14:27
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    -1 "the system doesn't do anything to provide the protections originally envisioned." Patently False. Bad Question: No presidential candidate would ever visit Iowa or New Hampshire were it not for the electoral college. Yet they are two important states in the Presidential election because of the Electoral College. No reform needed.
    – user2590
    Commented Aug 3, 2013 at 0:14

3 Answers 3


There is an effort underway now called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

These reform efforts wax and wane as demographics meet the various political parties interests. Right now, "progressives" are really excited about the popular vote, because they can successfully get key voting blocks to vote their way with mass media. In earlier times, Republicans pushed for this as a way to sidestep the democratic machines.

I would argue that the Electoral College is an important institution for democracy, that encourages moderate voices and gives a voice to small states who would otherwise have none.

The common complaint is that states dominated by one party don't get any attention during presidential debates -- New York, for example, gets approximately 0 ads for republican presidential candidates. In a national popular vote system, everyone would see ads on TV appealing to whatever voting blocs a campaign is strong with. I fail to see how winning an election because you can nationally attract the votes of specific demographic groups (ie. specific races, occupations social classes, etc) is more democratic than getting broad support in a subset of states with vigorous two-party political scenes.

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    The biggest issue with the Electoral College is that it unfairly overweights votes from small states. To that extent, it violates the "one person, one vote" principle that underlies the rest of American election law.
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 22:48
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    @aeismail I think there are valid arguments on both sides of this issue. That principle became a matter of law after a few Supreme Court decisions. The make-up of the US Senate, for example, violates that principle as it is derived directly from the Constitution. The Senate as an institution has a moderating influence on the national discourse -- I think democracy is about more than tallying votes. Commented Feb 14, 2012 at 17:46
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    This doesn't really answer the question, and sounds mostly like an op-ed.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 0:12
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    @Flimzy: How does it not answer the question? The question is whether there's been a serious effort to reform the system; the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is just that. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 0:43
  • @duffbeer703: The idea of "one person, one vote" means that within an election, all votes should have the same weight. It's why you're not allowed to draw congressional districts with wildly unequal populations, for instance. It doesn't have anything to do with the concept of apportionment per se. [But to give numbers to my earlier point: 17 states and DC have 5 or fewer electoral votes (69 EV's) for 23.8 MM residents. TX has 25 MM residents, but gets just 32 EV's. That's a lot of vote dilution for TX.]
    – aeismail
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 6:04

Depending on exactly what you mean by a "serious effort" the answer would seem to be no. I am assuming that you would consider a proposed constitutional amendment that got to the states and did not receive enough votes in the states as serious.

There have however been numerous efforts to reform or abolish the electoral college. According to archives.gov there have been over 700 proposals to change or do away with the electoral college. Two recent proposals came close. The first in 1970, was led by former Representative Emmanuel Cellar and former Senator Birch Bayh. They had the bill on the floor of the Senate where it was filibustered. A motion for cloture to break the filibuster did not hit the necessary 67 votes (67 votes being the number needed to break a filibuster at the time) and so the bill died. I can't seem to find the text of the defeated amendment anywhere online. Later in 1979, Senator Bayh tried again and failed to break a filibuster on the Senate floor as he did nearly a decade earlier.

As far as the present day goes, duffbeer703 pointed out the very active National Popular Vote Interstate Compact movement. If the electoral college is to change any time soon it will likely be due to that movement.

Like I said earlier, your question depends largely on what you mean by "serious effort." If you are comparing it to the prohibition movement, civil rights movement, etc. then the answer is unequivocally no, but if you were interested whether federal legislators had taken the necessary steps the answer can definitely be yes.

  • I don't feel like this is really a "no" answer. It seems more like the case that "yes there were serious efforts, which also had serious opposition". By opposition I mean more than just the ordinary constitutional hurdles to amendment, but in fact very active opposition (such as people spending lots of time fillibustering). Commented Aug 5, 2020 at 19:09

It depends what you mean by serious. Has there been any attempt that actually had the slightest chance of succeeding? No.

Yes, there have been attempts to force states to split their electoral votes, but the strategy has been to do it where it hurts the other party. Republicans have tried in the last eight years to get California to split their electors by congressional district or popular vote, but they for some reason don't seem so interested in getting Texas to do the same.

There have been some other efforts. For example, after the 2000 election, there was a lot of talk about reforming the electoral process, but it didn't get anywhere. After the 1968 election, there was also talk about eliminating the Electoral College. In both of these discussions, Republicans who won the elections weren't all that interested in talking to the proponents -- the Democrats who lost.

In the 1920s progressives also talked about eliminating the Electoral College (part of this was to force states to grant woman suffrage). In this case, it was the Republican progressives who wanted the change while the Democratic party was aligned against it. At that time, the Democratic coalition depended upon the South which kept their African-America citizens away from the polls. In some of these states, up to 40% of the population was African-American. Eliminating the Electoral College meant that either the Southern states would lose almost 1/2 of their power in electing the President, or that they'd have to allow Blacks access to the polls.

  • This doesn't even attempt to answer the question from what I can see (although I must admit, I didn't read every word), and sound like an editorial, with a few (irrelevant to the actual question) historical facts interspersed.
    – Flimzy
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 0:15
  • I agree, this devolution to other countries doesn't answer the question and while I agree the Electoral College needs reform this is not an answer to that question. Downvoting until it's edited.
    – MichaelF
    Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 13:40
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    This is a great response to the accepted answer's somewhat over-the-top defence of the EC. I was cheering most of it. However, you folks are right that it doesn't answer the question at all. Shame. It needed to be said, and wouldn't have fit in a comment or two.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 4, 2012 at 17:40
  • Hmmm. Rereading this, I have a minor tweak to your second bullet point. Popular election of a state's electors is not a constitutional requirement (shocking, huh?), and in 1860 I believe at least one southern state didn't even bother with it and just sent the EC electors pledged to the southern candidate.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Apr 20, 2012 at 21:31
  • I have decided to do a major edit on this answer to limit it to only the information that actually answers the question. While the rest is interesting, it is more about opinion and specualtion than providing a true answer. Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 16:07

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