Electoral College saves Trump

Elections | America’s complicated election system frustrates many, but it’s not going anywhere
by Evan Wilt
Posted 11/11/16, 04:36 pm

WASHINGTON—Hillary Clinton won the most votes on Election Day, but still conceded defeat to Donald Trump—sparking renewed debate over America’s arcane Electoral College.

Votes are still trickling in, but as of this afternoon Clinton has almost 400,000 more votes than  Trump. This is not the first time the second-place candidate won the presidential election, and, according to experts, it won’t be the last. Tuesday’s results produced sound arguments both for and against the Electoral College, but experts all agree the system is here to stay.

“The Electoral College violates the fundamental norms of democracy,” said George Edwards III, a political-science professor at Texas A&M University. “When the candidate who comes in second wins the election, it is a perverse aspect of any system.”

Democrats won the country’s national popular vote for the third consecutive election, but no longer control any branch of government, leaving a bitter taste for millions of Americans. Edwards told me the Founding Fathers designed a terrible election process based on motivations he argues are irrelevant today.

The Constitution’s framers never intended to have a pure democracy. They feared a national popular vote system would allow for presidential candidates to pander to metropolitan areas and ignore the rest of the country. The Founding Fathers wanted the president to earn the votes of many different kinds of Americans across a wide swath of regions.

But the Electoral College also came out of doubts that everyday Americans could make an informed vote.

Americans have never voted for president. According to the Constitution, they vote for electors within their state who select the next president on the Wednesday after the second Monday in December. Congress then counts the Electoral College’s votes in January to make the transfer of power official before the inauguration. Candidates need at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes to win.

The Electoral College has helped the United States maintain order for the last 200 years and changing it could be disastrous, said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

“The reason the framers put in the Electoral College proved itself in this election,” he said. “They were afraid that if that president would be elected by national popular vote, then they would only gravitate to big cities and urban areas. They wanted someone who won regional elections all across the country. Not just someone popular in the Northeast or the big cities.”

Under the Electoral College, Americans have steered clear of a coup d’état, allowing for peaceful elections and transfer of power. A national popular vote system would cause nationwide recounts and outrage in a close race, according to von Spakovsky.

He added that without the Electoral College, presidential candidates would campaign exclusively in big cities like Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Houston. The current system allows smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire to have a seat at the table during election time.

But it’s not a perfect process.

Each state gets the number of electors equal to its members in Congress—two senators plus its U.S. representatives. Under this structure, smaller states have disproportionate influence. Because Wyoming has three electoral votes but only 584,153 residents, each elector represents 194,717 voters. In California, there are 55 electors and each one represents 705,454 voters, making votes in Wyoming worth 3.6 times more than in California.

Edwards told me this system is maddening. Each vote has a different value and in every cycle voters in traditional red or blue states get disenfranchised.

“Every Republican in California knows their vote doesn’t count, in the same way a Democrat in Texas knows voting is a waste of time,” Edwards said. He added switching to a national popular vote system would mobilize more voters to head to the polls.

Only 56 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot this year—the lowest total since 2000.

This is also the second time since 2000 that the president-elect lost the popular vote, and the fifth time in history: Andrew Jackson in 1824, Samuel Tilden in 1876, Grover Cleveland in 1888, and Al Gore in 2000 all received a majority of the popular vote but fell short in the Electoral College.

There have been more than 700 proposed constitutional amendments to change the Electoral College in the last 200 years—more than any other topic, according to the National Archives. Yet each proposal has lacked the needed support to pass. The amendment process requires congressional approval and then needs the blessing of three-fourths of the states. But since most small states are unwilling to give up the power the Electoral College grants them, changing the election system is unlikely.

Evan Wilt

Evan is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD reporter.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 06:31 pm

    Or consider the system of preferences in Australia where you select your 1st, 2nd, 3rd... choice.  All Australians must also by law vote (or face a fine).

  • RJSmith
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 06:48 pm

    Though understated, the bias and argument against the Electoral College is apparent throughout this piece, both in picture and in words. I thought WORLD's mission was to report from a Christian Worldview. But this article is not supportive of a Christian Worldview, nor is it supportive of the Founding Principles on which our country was founded. It knocks the Electoral College and plants the seed with readers that we should have popular vote in its place. It subtley works to engender sypmpathy for those who voted for Clinton and the logical extension that protest and unrest would only be an understandable reaction. I have been a fan of WORLD for quite some time, but articles like this indicate that they are no longer on mission. They are seeking to selectively influence more than inform, and influence in a way that is not in concert with a Christian Worldview. They are rapidly becoming just another member of the Misguided Media. Sad.

  • DB
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 08:35 pm

    I'm not sure if you clearly read the intent of this article. After I read the article it was clear to me the importance of the electoral college. I don't see how this article was pandering and sympathizing towards any candidate's followers. I guess we all read into an article what we will.

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 07:37 pm

    RJSmith, I didn't come away with that idea at all.  Evan was reporting both sides of the debate along with some background info.

  • My Two Cents
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 08:17 pm

    I have lived half my life in "fly-over" states. Naturally, I see the value of the electoral college. So much of life is based on whatever the "city folk" decide. Rural America is forsaken and ignored for the most part. One article I read compared the EC to the World Series. Team A wins the first game 10-0. Team B wins the next 4 games: 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0. Electoral College says team B is the winner, because they won four games. National popular vote says team A won, because they scored more runs. The democracy in America is shown in the election of our governors, senators and congressmen by popular vote. The President is for ALL the people, and maintaining the EC is really the only representative way.

  • Leeper
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 08:56 pm

    The electoral college is a great system set up by our founding fathers. It prevents the large metropolitan areas from running the country. Next the liberals will be pushing for the populous states to have more Senate votes.

  • JG
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 10:47 pm

    I pause at the title and slant of an article shorn of American civics and history. The founders, quite aware of the foibles of pure democracy and her tendencies, created some safegaurds. That is why we are a Constitutional Republic. Specifically mitigating the tyranny of the majority in protecting minority positions, encouraging coalition building across a swath of our Nation rather than geocentric dominance, and limiting voter fraud by containing it's influence at the state rather than the national level. 

    EC really quite brilliant even today. 

    On the popular vote not sure it's all counted yet ? Do we really know who won the vote of American citizens, rather than all who cast a ballot ? What safegaurds are needed in a digital age where hidden hardware and software can be tampered with and there exists no physical document to safegaurd the integrity ? This seems an imperative for anyone seriously considering the change.


  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 01:06 am

    400,000 votes is about half a percent of difference between the two candidates.  It is a virtual tie.  The Electoral College is a good tie-breaker in cases like this.

  • Alan H
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 01:30 am

    The Electoral College system requires a would be president to build coalitions where all constituencies are important and have a say in governance.  The EC was established to prevent a candidate from becoming a tyrannical dictator, ignoring all minorities.  The founders recognized that governments based on pure democracy were doomed and gave us a representative republic. I sure am thankful that folks like Edwards weren't involved with the writing of our constitution.  In fact, our founders were writing against the very ideas he is promoting.

  • PR
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 01:31 am

    The electoral college has real merit in the sense that it gives less densely populated areas a seat at the table. In Switzerland we have often referenda based on the national popular vote and indeed those living in the cities tend to decide what they think is best for those living in the rural mountainous areas. Imagine people from San Francisco and New York deciding that people in Montana can no longer build more houses or businesses because the city people prefer the mountain regions 'quaint and unspoilt' to go on vacation. This is basically what happened. 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 10:10 am

    We need to do a better job of teaching ourselves and our children how our system is designed to work, and why it was designed that way.

  • RJSmith
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 12:09 pm


  • BenArtM80
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 01:18 pm

    I believe the electoral college could go one step further by granting electoral votes based on district results instead of statewide results, and the votes representing the two senators could go to the overall state winner, similar to the way Nebraska and Maine handle their electors.  

  • Steve SoCal
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 02:06 pm

    I take issue with the title of this article, and I believe it is an unwise choice.  It gives the impression that the Electoral College somehow intervened in the democratic process to "save" Trump's campaign... which really plays into the hands of the left wing protesters and anarchists who are causig trouble now.  As the article itself describes, the electoral college is a foundational part of our democratic process that was designed to bring balance and make the election even more fair and representational of the breadth of the American people. 

  • Cmakowski
    Posted: Sat, 11/12/2016 04:07 pm

    I agree completely. Bad headline, betraying a biased view. Trump was neither "saved", nor, as election night reporting had it, did he "come from behind".  

  • Grasp at heel
    Posted: Sun, 11/13/2016 03:31 am

    Whats also important is popular is not a majority, about 6 million people did not vote for either Hillary or Trump but for a third party if either had won a majority of the nation would have been upset just like they are upset about Trump.

  • Wyo mom
    Posted: Sun, 11/13/2016 09:45 am

    The title of this article bothers me too. "The Electoral College prevents fraud" would be a better title and a point that was not made. A popular vote can be tampered with. The EC makes it very hard to rig the vote.  Also the article makes it sound like there is lower voter turn out due to the EC. I would argue it is the poor choice of candidates that causes low turn out.  I really hope we take a much closer look at the primary process that came up with this selection.  

  • midwestmom
    Posted: Sun, 11/13/2016 11:16 pm

    Misleading title. What happens if the popular also goes to the President-Elect when the final votes are in?  Will there be a corrected article? 

  •  colorpet's picture
    Posted: Mon, 11/14/2016 01:00 am

    Electoral College didn't save Trump it elected Trump. Please. Your headline villifies our constitution. We are a republic not a democracy.

  • KY MikeS's picture
    KY MikeS
    Posted: Mon, 11/14/2016 05:54 am

    I heard someone point out long ago that the US President is not the president if the people but of the states, therefore it is the states that elect him or her, not the people. Each state set its own policy to represent it in the EC for that election, and some do cast their votes proportionally to the vote in their states, but most vote as winner-take-all. Like many other peculiarities of our constitution, the EC is one more ingenious accommodation to the acknowledgement of mankind's fallen nature, and to simplistically dismiss it as arcane and broken is naive and vulgar. I like the analogy of.collectively accumulating World Series scores to determine the champion. The EC must do what the framers intended it to do - allow the states voice in their government. 

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 12/01/2016 07:24 pm

    The popular vote would not directly give undue power to a few populated areas.  It would give equal power to all voters, most of whom live in populated areas.  If a majority of voters live in urban areas and urban areas are mostly liberal, then there is an indirect shift of power to urban liberals.  That isn't necessarily unfair, just different.

    I don't believe liberals should ever be given political power, because their ideas aren't based in reality and therefore don't work.  So an electoral college that gives rural areas a balance of power suits me just fine, but there is one gotcha.  

    Several "unfaithful electors" say they will not vote for Trump, even though they their constituents voted for him.  They cite moral grounds or national interest or whatever.  And so, now a few renegade electors can invalidate millions of votes and throw the election into a turmoil.  How is that good for the country?