The Electoral College

What's happening?

For the second time in last five elections, the candidate with fewer total votes will become President. 


Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. He is projected to win 305 electoral votes to Hillary Clinton's 233. However, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a projected margin of 1.2%—more than President Nixon in 1968 (.7%) and President Kennedy in 1960 (.2%).


In 2000, President Bush beat Al Gore with 271 to 266 electoral votes. Gore won the popular vote by .5%.

Why is it important?

Electoral College represents a tug of war between small state interests and commitment to federalism on one side and ideas of democratic unity on the other. The Founding Fathers' debate at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 continues today—and the stakes only get higher. 

Debate it!

Should we keep or remove the Electoral College?


Hillary Clinton's popular victory is immense and unprecedented—and it's still growing. By the time counting is done, Hillary Clinton will win the popular vote by over two million votes and 1.5 percentage points. That's more than anyone in history who did not go on to be president and several (Nixon, Kennedy) who did. "We," as a country, did not vote for Trump. "We" voted for Clinton.


First, the Electoral College was never the guardian of federalism or defender of small states that proponents like to pretend. History proves that. The system was based on the Three Fifths Compromise, which allowed mostly Southern states to count slaves as three-fifths of a person in order to increase their population, which determined that state's number of Congressional seats—and electoral votes. It is a vestige of a racist history that we should continue working to undo.


Second, the Electoral College is not functional or just. It deprives the majority of voters of their choice by—in 2 of the last 5 elections—placing the loser in the presidency. A Gallup poll showed 63% of adults want it gone. The presidency and vice-presidency are our only national elective offices, and they should obviously be elected nationally, not state-by-state.


To argue against the Electoral College you have to deliberately ignore the single most important reality about the U.S. and its history. This country is made up of states, not one national whole. A weighted majority of states that make up our union—not the majority of people in it—choose the president. That's the way it should be. 


If you are a liberal arguing against the Electoral College, consider this: Would you be arguing the same if Clinton had won the electoral college and lost the popular vote? Or would you be arguing—as many did about superdelegates—that the system was put in place to create institutional checks against runaway democracy?


On a practical level, a popular vote election would have looked wildly different for both campaigns—and this change in strategy could have played out differently than the current popular vote result. 


On a more philosophical level, the Electoral College prevents urban centers from overriding rural communities, securing minority voices against the tyranny of the majority. To borrow from Eric Foner, the Founding Fathers "sought to shield the national government from popular enthusiasms that had alarmed them during the 1780s." The same applies today.

Learn more...

  1. The history of the electoral college and slave states
    • "In a direct election system, the South would have lost every time because a huge percentage of its population was slaves, and slaves couldn't vote. But an Electoral College allows states to count slaves, albeit at a discount (the three-fifths clause), and that's what gave the South the inside track in presidential elections." —Professor Akhil Reed Amar
  2. A way to change the electoral system without changing the Constitution
    • "There is another way. A National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is making the rounds. Here's how it works. Participating States adopt legislation requiring that their electors cast all the State's votes not for the winner in that State, as they do now, but for the winner of the national popular vote. Such legislation would take effect when adopted by States comprising a majority of the Electoral College. That way, the adopting States would determine the President, regardless of what the rest did, because they would have a majority of the Electoral College; but their determination would be to select the winner of the nationwide popular vote. ... It is clever, and probably constitutional. To date, ten states and DC have adopted the legislation, for a total of 165 Electoral College votes, or a little over 60% of the 270 needed." —lawyer Jonathan Abram (my dad :))
  3. A defense of the electoral college in the Boston Globe
    • "Those states have different political, economic, and cultural interests — Massachusetts and Arkansas are not interchangeable — and the Founders designed a federal system that respects each state’s identity and autonomy. The Electoral College, as part of that system, ensures that voters in a handful of densely populated urban regions cannot hand the presidency to a candidate that a significant majority of the states oppose." —columnist Jeff Jacoby