Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Clinton Loses But Wins By Biggest Popular Vote Margin in History

Can you explain from the top of your head just how the Electoral College makes a candidate President of the United States?  Uh, huh, I didn't think so. A vote is a vote, isn't it? After all, we live in a democracy, don't we? Nope and nope and nope.

Hillary Clinton's margin in the popular vote against President-elect Donald Trump has surpassed 2 million, furthering the record for a candidate who lost in the Electoral College.

Thanks to votes still being counted in California and other western areas, Clinton's vote advantage hit the 2 million mark on November 23, 2016, according to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Wasserman's spread sheet had Clinton at 64,225,863 votes to Trump's 62,210,612.

(David M. Jackson. “Clinton's lead passes the 2 million mark.” USA Today. November 23, 2016.)

This is not the first time a candidate won the popular vote but lost the election. It has happened four other times in our nation’s history:
  • In 1824 Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but got less than 50 percent of the electoral votes. John Quincy Adams became the next president when he was picked by the House of Representatives. Jackson got 38,221 more votes than Adams.
No candidate won a majority of the electoral votes. The House of Representatives selected John Quincy Adams as president. (Jackson won the election four years later.)
  • In 1876 Samuel Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election when Rutherford B. Hayes got 185 electoral votes to Tilden’s 184. Tilden got 252,666 more votes than Hayes.
Tilden narrowly won the popular vote over Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, but twenty contested electoral votes prevented either man from winning a majority of electors. In a compromise that ended the federal occupation of the South that had begun after the Civil War, Congress certified all twenty contested votes as having been cast for Hayes.
  • In 1888 Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the election when Benjamin Harrison got 233 electoral votes to Cleveland’s 168. Cleveland got 94,530 more votes than Harrison.
Cleveland's support was largely regional: he won large majorities in several southern states, which raised his popular vote totals but won him few electoral votes.
  • In 2000 Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George Bush. In the most highly contested election in modern history, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount of ballots, giving Bush the state’s 25 electoral votes for a total of 271 to Gore’s 255. Gore got 543,816 more votes than Bush.
The vote was so close that Gore, thinking he had lost, conceded, then retracted his concession as more votes were counted. Because the vote in Florida, a decisive state, was so close, multiple recounts were held, and the Supreme Court had to settle a lawsuit over whether recounts should continue.

(Michael P. McDonald. “National General Election VEP Turnout Rates, 1789-Present.” June 11, 2014.)

(Gerhard Peters. “Voter Turnout In Presidential Elections.” 1999-2016.)

(David Walbert. “Does my vote count? Understanding the electoral college.” 2016.)

So What?

Some of the founders wondered if it would be wise to permit average citizens to vote but wanted to stay true to their republican principles (The people would govern themselves only through elected representatives.). Because the role of the president was so important, most of the framers thought that the people couldn't be trusted to elect the president directly. The Electoral College was their answer.

Because the system is written into the Constitution, an amendment would be required to alter the process. Each state’s electoral votes are counted in a joint session of Congress on the 6th of January in the year following the meeting of the electors. Members of the House and Senate meet in the House chamber to conduct the official tally of electoral votes.

Many critics of the electoral system say it violates the basic principle of voters electing the president, so the winner should be the candidate who wins the most popular votes. In reality, there is no national election for president, only separate state elections to garner a majority of electoral votes 
Those who support the electoral system claim it encourages candidates to campaign across many states, rather than focusing on the huge states, such as California or Texas. Still, in practice, presidential candidates tend to ignore states where one party already dominates and focus on the few select states that are deemed to be “battlegrounds” where either party might prevail.

One possibility for changing the system is the National Popular Vote bill. The Constitution says states may decide on their own how to allocate their electoral votes, and a reform group is calling for states to agree by law to allocate all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. So far, 11 states, including California, New York and Illinois, have said they would support this proposal. But the idea has won little traction in the Republican-leaning red states.

Is it fair to lose the election to the Electoral College while winning the popular vote? The answer to that question may depend upon where you live.

According to Dr. David Walbert, editorial and web Director of LEARN NC, your vote counts more if you live in a small state like Alaska than it does if you live in a big state like California. Walbert explains ...

Alaska, a very small state, has far fewer residents per electoral vote than the national average, so individual votes cast in Alaska count more than the national average — twice as much, in fact! A voter in California has a little less influence than the average American, about 83% as much. A voter in North Carolina has about 91% the influence of the average American. (You can calculate weight of vote in a given state by dividing the national average of residents per elector by that state's residents per elector. Since we're comparing each state to the national average, the weight of vote for the entire United States is exactly 1.00.

While every American's vote counts, then, This seems like a paradox, because clearly a big state as a whole has more influence than a small state. If you're running for president, you are more concerned about winning California, with its 54 electoral votes, than you are about winning Alaska with its 3 electoral votes. As a matter of strategy, you'd probably spend more time and money campaigning in the big states than in smaller states. As a result, residents of big states tend to get more attention in presidential elections than residents of small states, and so small-staters may feel left out and unimportant. Yet in reality, each individual voter has less influence in a big state than in a small state.”

(David Walbert. “Does my vote count? Understanding the electoral college.” 2016.)

I can't imagine the struggle government and history teachers have in teaching young adults the facts about the voting system used in presidential elections. I doubt if even many adults could explain in full just how the Electoral College works. Just as alarming to much of the under-informed public is the fact that America is a republic, not a democracy – even though the Pledge of Allegiance contains the words “I pledge allegiance... to the republic, for which it stands,” I dare say a vast minority understands that commitment. 

“Liberty and justice for all” as it applies to the Electoral College and the election of the president is debatable, especially considering the reasons for the its inception. Once more the country has a leader who lost the popular vote. I would bet you think the system is “great” or “terrible” depending upon the candidate for which you cast a vote.

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