The reasons for desiring a change to the way Americans elect our President are obvious. "One man, one vote" has become the default election paradigm through various court rulings, constitutional amendments, and evolutions of our democratic traditions over time. That the states with smaller populations have proportionally more votes than the people of larger states through the electoral college seems inherently unfair to us.
Another reason to get rid of the electoral college is the problem of the faithless elector. While this has not historically been much of a problem, the possibility exists that a faithless elector or two could change the outcome of a presidential election in a very tight race, where one or two electoral votes separates the candidates.
The electoral college is not the institution that the Founders envisioned that it would be, if it ever was. The Founders meant for the electors to act as a "buffer" to the passions of the general public. They were to represent the people, but at the same time, they were to supply wisdom and deliberation to the selection of the Republic's next Chief Magistrate. Now, however, when a Party's nominee wins a state in the general election, said Party will choose loyal activists who pledge to vote for the Party's nominee when the electoral college formally meets. The electoral college has, in essence, become an out-of-date formatily.
As discussed in a 1970 report issues by the Senate Judiciary Committee, there are several benefits that the electoral college brings to American presidential elections:
- encourages the building of broad, geographically-dispersed majorities to elect a candidate that can win a majority of the electoral college, leading to more stable, moderate Governments that respect the rights of minorities;
- important support for maintaining federalism and the role of the States in the federal government (if we repealed the Seventeenth Amendment, I think this would be less of a worry);
- structurally enforces the U.S. two-party system;
- contains recounts to specific states or election precincts;
- allows control and responsibility of election process and administration to be maintained at the state and local levels, rather than at the federal level.
While I'm not sure about the claim that going to a direct election scheme would remove an underpinning of the two-party system, the support the electoral college lends to federalism and the containment of electoral recounts is obvious. Combined with the fact that State Legislatures have established direct election as the method by which their respective State electors are chosen (a power granted State Legislatures under the Constitution), and we can see why there is not the supermajority of support required to pass a proposed constitutional amendment to institute the direct election of the President. In essence, there are fifty state elections for president, rather than one national election. For the benefits that the electoral college bring, I'll be OK with the individual voter of Wyoming and Iowa having a greater proportional influence than the individual voter in Texas (my home State), New York and California.
The Unites States is, after all, a democratic republic, not a pure democracy.