Three days after the United States 2016 presidential election, Google reported 99 percent of popular votes for presidential candidates have been counted. Donald Trump scored 60,072,551 votes. Hillary Rodham Clinton scored 60,467,601 votes. Yet Trump won the election.
This isn’t the first time the popular choice—the candidate more people voted for—did not win the election. In the 19th century, John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland all won the presidency despite losing the popular vote. In 2000, Al Gore won about 540,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush, yet lost the election.
How can the candidate more people voted for not win an election? By being chosen through an electoral college system.
Part of the reason the Electoral College was created was the lack of political parties in the 18th century. Congress feared a presidential election by popular vote would result in each state putting forth candidates, with each state’s populace likely to vote only for their own candidates. Candidates from states with higher populations would repeatedly take the office, and states with fewer people would be unable to compete.
But the other option, Congressional appointment to the presidency, carried two risks. First, the risk of candidates pandering to members of Congress for their support. And second, once appointed, the president would be effectively powerless to disagree with Congress, for fear of losing his seat in the next appointment cycle.
The Electoral College was designed as a compromise between these two methods of choosing a president.
This may have been a fair solution to the problem in 1787, when the College was designed, but politics today are very different. We do have polarizing parties now. Presidential candidates now select their own potential vice presidents, rather than the runner-up in the race taking that office. And modern media allows everyone to learn about the candidates, wherever they come from.
The workings of the Electoral College are convoluted, and would take an entire page of this paper to explain sufficiently. An important point to know, however, is all the electors of most states are expected to vote for the popular candidate of that state. Electoral votes are not split between candidates in most cases. Despite this, electors don’t have to vote the popular vote in their state, though there might be consequences for voting against the mandate. And the electors don’t vote this year until Dec 19.
Change.org is spearheading a petition that asks electors to vote the national popular vote and elect Hillary Clinton to the presidency. The petition currently has 3.3 million signatures of its 4.5 million goal. This petition might not have any effect on the outcome of the Electoral College’s decision, but if one doesn’t ask, the answer is always “no.”
As for the popular idea of disbanding the Electoral College outright, that would take a major change to the Constitution, a difficult task unlikely to occur anytime soon.
There is another option, however. The National Interstate Vote Compact is an agreement between states to award all electoral votes to the candidate with the most overall popular votes. It requires states with a total of 270 electors, the number of electors needed for a candidate to win, to agree to the compact for it to take effect. Currently 10 states and the District of Columbia (which has three electors of its own) have agreed, for a total of 165 electors.
California is one of the states that has already adopted the compact. It took three attempts to get a bill through the Legislature and signed into law.
Twenty other states have submitted bills to their legislatures that have failed so far. The fact the issue has been addressed in those states means enough people care about it to try again.
If you believe the Electoral College, as it now operates, has passed the point of fair usefulness, talk to your friends and family members who live in those states about writing to their state legislators. Again, if one doesn’t ask, the answer is always “no.”
For more information on the NIVC, including a list of states that have tried but failed, so far, to adopt it, go online to en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Popular_Vote_Interstate_Compact.