WASHINTON (AP) — Our country’s unique system for electing presidents could play a big part this year like it did in 2016, when Donald J. Trump became the fourth president in history to win the election after losing the popular vote.
So, why is it that one candidate can win the popular vote but another wins the electoral college vote and thus the presidency? The simple answer is that’s how the framers of our Constitution set it up.
The popular vote is the number of ballots as they’re casted, while the electoral vote is something a bit more complicated.
The electoral college was written into our constitution more than 200 years ago at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a compromise between people who wanted the decision for president to rely solely on Congress and those who wanted the people to decide directly.
This was a time of little national identity. The United States had just been established, so there was concern people would favor their own regional candidates and larger states would dominate the vote.
The goal of the electoral college was to spread that power out as evenly as possible.
To this day, each state is given a number of electors equal to its number of senators (2), as well representatives, which is based off population (ranging from 3-55).
This hybrid system makes it so that a single vote in a small state actually holds more weight than a vote in a large state — and that’s how some elections lead to outcomes that are at odds with the popular vote.
In fact, part of a presidential candidate’s campaign strategy is drawing a map of states the candidate can and must win to gather 270 electoral votes.
There are 538 members of the U.S. electoral college. Each member represents the popular vote in their respective state and are trusted to relay that voice.
The overall winner must get half plus one — or 270 of the electoral votes.
So, in 2016, while Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 2.9 million more votes, those votes were racked up in lopsided states like New York and California where the electoral college was already leaning Democrat.
Whereas in less populated Midwest states, like Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump had the winning margin and therefore was voted in by the electoral college and inaugurated as President.
It would take a constitutional amendment to abolish the Electoral College — an unlikely move because of how difficult it is to pass and ratify constitutional changes. But there’s a separate movement that calls for a compact of states to allocate all their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner, regardless of how those individual states opted in an election. That still faces an uphill climb, though.
This story was contributed to by the Associated Press.