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The US Voting System: History of Changes

Original voting procedures

The constitution had outlined clear procedures of determining the president in the United States but that system only worked for some time. By the 1800s, the Americans had begun to explore other options to achieve the same goal. This was triggered by the flaws that were found in the original constitutional setting. As per the original constitution, the president was not elected directly by the voters. The election was done at the Electoral College level and it was a cast of the vote between two presidential contestants. In the Philadelphia convention, many proposals were made on the amendments that would take the electoral system in a better direction.

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Calls for a change in the voting system

Madison was very instrumental in making the constitutional amendments in the way the American voting system is shaped. Although the direct voting system faced great opposition, Madison gave very fundamental reasons to defend its viability. Most importantly he acknowledged that the system will have significant disadvantages to the small states including his own home state, Virginia (McCarthy and Richie). The original system of voting as it was enshrined in the constitution gave the right to elect a president to the Electoral College. Initially, each member of the Electoral College had two votes.

Under this system, the presidential candidate with the majority of the votes became the president, and the candidate with the least votes was the vice president. Madison was not in favor of this system. According to him, a direct voting system would represent the will of a majority of the people which is the essence of democracy. The Electoral College voting system gave the smaller states power and equal representation. However, democracy is not about equality rather it is about majority rule. A popular vote by the direct electorate would enhance America’s democracy. However, Madison’s ideology was not supported by his states and other southerners.

What led to the changes in the voting system?

The changes became very imminent when the complex situations emerged during the 1796 and the 1800 elections. In 1976, the president, John Adams was forced to serve Thomas Jefferson rather than his preferred candidate that the majority Electoral College members did not like. With the two votes for each member, the electorate voted for both Jefferson and Adams to allow him to capture the second place hence becoming the vice president automatically (Miller). That was the first challenge that the original system showed. Later in the 1800 elections, a bigger challenge was experienced. There was a tie between the two major candidates, Jefferson and his running mate Aaron Burr (Mudde).

Burr withdrew from seeking the presidency and eventually, the mantle was given to Jefferson (McCarthy and Richie). However, such situations were not anticipated in the constitution and therefore there were no legal guidelines set to address them. The stalemate that lasted for several days was eventually solved through backroom negotiations (McCarthy and Richie). Another problem that arose with the original system is was the fact that it was seemingly giving the legislators more power over the executive. If the legislators were given the power to decide who rules the country or a state for that matter, this would compromise the power of the executive and ultimately lead to a disastrous situation.


Why do you think the presidential powers would be compromised by the original constitution electoral system? If you do not agree, give reasons why.


McCarthy, Devin, and Rob Richie. “Why James Madison Wanted to Change the Way We Vote for President.” 2015. Web.

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Miller, Nicholas R. “A priori voting power and the US Electoral College.” In Power, Voting, and Voting Power: 30 Years after (2013): 411-442. 2015.

Mudde, Cas. “Fighting the system? Populist radical right parties and party system change.” Party Politics (2014): 34-56. 2015.

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"The US Voting System: History of Changes." StudyCorgi, 6 Jan. 2022,

1. StudyCorgi. "The US Voting System: History of Changes." January 6, 2022.


StudyCorgi. "The US Voting System: History of Changes." January 6, 2022.


StudyCorgi. 2022. "The US Voting System: History of Changes." January 6, 2022.


StudyCorgi. (2022) 'The US Voting System: History of Changes'. 6 January.

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