Results put new focus on US Electoral College
WASHINGTON: The fact that Hillary Clinton most likely won the US popular vote but won’t be president has some people wondering, “Wait, why do we do it this way?” Thank - or blame - the Founding Fathers for creating the possibility of a so-called “divergent election” when they set up the Electoral College. A look at how and why the US selects its presidents this way:
The Electoral College was devised at the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was a compromise meant to strike a balance between those who wanted popular elections for president and those who wanted no public input. Alexander Hamilton wrote, “If the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent.” At the time, the country had just 13 states, and the founders were worried about one state exercising outsized influence, according to a white paper from the US Election Assistance Commission. Small states were worried that states with large populations would have extra sway. Southern states with slaves who couldn’t vote worried that Northern states would have a louder voice. There were concerns that people in one state wouldn’t know much about candidates from other states. The logistics of a national election were daunting. The thinking was that if candidates had to win multiple states rather than just the popular vote, they would have to attract broader support.
HOW IT WORKS
The electoral system has been tweaked over the years, but the gist endures. The president is selected by a “college” of 538 electors from the states. Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has members of Congress, and the District of Columbia gets three. To be elected president, the winner must get at least half the total plus one or 270 electoral votes. Most states give all their electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the state’s popular vote. So while Clinton is leading Trump in votes nationwide 47.7 percent to 47.5 percent, Trump’s total in the Electoral College stands at 290, with races in Michigan and New Hampshire yet to be called. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote but lost to Republican George W. Bush in the Electoral College 271266. Overall, there have been four such cases of divergent elections.