Depending on what candidate you chose to vote for on Election Day, the Electoral College was either your friend or your enemy.
The electoral vote is the only deciding vote for the presidency, not the overall popular vote. So, for Hillary Clinton supporters, the Electoral College was your mortal enemy.
For the fourth time in US history the winner of the electoral vote made it to the presidency without winning the popular vote. Past elections when this has happened were 1876, 1888 and 2000.
Does this mean that the vote was rigged on Election Day? Does it mean that the outcome wasn’t fair?
Allegations of corruption have been made and recounts are about to take place in Wisconsin and possibly other states. But put the rigging and corruption aside. When presidential elections are close, one candidate can win the popular vote and still not win the electoral vote.
And with no electoral majority, he or she can’t become president.
The electoral vote is based on the popular vote in each state. Here’s an example: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in California with 7,362,490 votes to Donald Trump’s 3,916,209. Because Clinton won the popular vote in California, she won all 55 electoral votes for that state.
Trump won Texas with a popular vote of 4,681,590 to Clinton’s 3,867,816. So Trump won all 38 electoral votes for that state.
The winner of the popular vote in a state is the winner of the electoral votes for that state.
Folks complaining about the Electoral College might not have the best understanding of how the process works. The popular vote — your vote, if you voted – does actually count. But it counts only toward the popular vote in your state. It doesn’t count toward a nationwide tally of popular votes.
That’s why you could win the overall popular vote and still not secure the White House. Hillary had more popular votes, but she didn’t win many of the states with fewer electors — like Wisconsin and North Carolina — to rack up the required 270 electoral votes to win. Meanwhile, Trump won a few of the key states with high electoral vote counts, but he also won a lot of states with fewer electors. Because of that scenario, Trump won more electoral votes but lost the popular vote. And when elections are closely contested, there can be split decisions between popular and electoral votes, like the 2000 and 2016 elections.
The US Constitution spells it out very plainly. “Each state shall appoint,…a number of electors, equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the state may be entitled in the congress.’’
So, the amount of electors is somewhat based on the population of each state. The number of members in the House of Representatives from any particular state is based on the population of that state. For example, California is the most populated state in the country and has 53 representatives in the House. This means that 53 of its 55 electors are based on the amount of representatives the state is allowed to have. The other 2 electors are equal to the number of senators. Every state has two senators.
In a thinly populated state like Wyoming, there is only one representative in the House and two senators, equaling three electors.
The Electoral College was written into the US Constitution in 1787. It tries to guarantee that no candidate can become president by winning just a few highly populated states. That Clinton won more than 50 percent of the popular vote while losing 60 percent of the states is why the Electoral College was invented. To change it would need a constitutional amendment.
NOTE: Of the three previous elections where a candidate won the electoral vote but not the popular vote, two of those elections (1876 and 2000) had accusations of voter fraud and corruption. An earlier post on this website, To Rig or Not to Rig an Election, gives some information on the Election of 1876.