Win the votes yet lose the election
More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton, yet she lost to Donald Trump. They chose her but got him. Friends ask: How and why?
Electoral College. The answer lies in the quirks of the Electoral College. As I said on 10/30/16 (“Will Trump emulate Gore?”), American voters do not write or indicate their choices on their ballots. Instead, they vote for “electors” who in turn are pledged to vote, later on, for their prechosen presidential candidate.
Each of the 50 US states—plus the District of Columbia—determines by local law how the electors are to be chosen. However, each state is allocated a number of electors supposedly in proportion to the population of that state. California, the most populous, is given 55 electors while the least populous, like Alaska, Montana, Wyoming and DC, are granted three each.
In all, the Electoral College is composed of 538 electors. To win, a candidate must obtain at least 270 votes. Most states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, adopt the “winner-takes-all” rule—that is, the presidential (and VP) candidate capturing a plurality of the popular vote wins all the electoral votes in that state.
Normally, the winner of the nationwide popular vote also wins the majority of the electors’ votes. But under this complex, unique system, a candidate may capture a majority of the popular vote nationwide, yet lose the electoral vote.
Simple illustration. Let me illustrate how the exception happened in the 2016 (and in the 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000) elections. To simplify the math, let us assume that the United States has only 500,000 voters who live in only nine states, with the first state having 100,000 of them, and with the eight other states having 50,000 each.
Let us further assume that the first state is allocated 10 electors and the eight other states are allocated five electors each for a total of 40 for the eight states (a grand total of 50 electors for all nine states).
Let us finally assume that Clinton gets 80 percent of the votes in the first state but only 45 percent of the votes in the eight other states, and that Trump gets the balance of 20 percent in the first state plus 55 percent in each of the eight other states.
Thus, Clinton would get 80,000 votes in the first state plus 22,500 votes in each of the eight other states (or 180,000 in the eight), giving her a grand total of 260,000 popular votes nationwide.
On the other hand, Trump would get 20,000 votes in the first state plus 27,500 in each of the eight other states (or 220,000 in the eight), giving him a grand total of 240,000 popular votes nationwide.
Under the winner-takes-all scheme, Clinton will get only the 10 electoral voters pertaining to the first state while Trump will get the 40 electoral voters pertaining to the eight other states. Ergo, though she got the majority of the popular votes nationwide (260,000), Clinton would lose the election to Trump who got the majority (40) in the Electoral College.
In short, under the Electoral College system, Clinton who obtained 260,000 popular votes will get only 10 electoral voters, while Trump who obtained 240,000 popular votes will get 40 electoral voters. And win!
Undemocratic. In reality, the system has many more quirks. For example, Alaska with about 750,000 inhabitants has three electors while California with about 39 million has 55 electors. Thus, 250,000 Alaskans have more political punch than 700,000 Californians. Otherwise stated, every Alaskan has almost thrice the voting power of every Californian.
The Electoral College was crafted by the founding fathers as a compromise between direct election by the people and indirect election by the US Congress.
Over the years, the US Constitution has been rid of biases against slaves and women. Senators, representatives, governors, etc. are all elected by popular vote.
Yet, the highest official is still chosen by a constitutional relic that has been ridiculed by the likes of Vladimir Putin, who rhetorically asked, “And you call your presidential election democratic?”
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