The issue of the Electoral College having failed to elect the popular vote winner of the Presidency for a total of five times now, and twice in the last 16 years, continues to plague us, particularly when the present incumbent of the White House lost the popular vote by the biggest margin yet, 2.85 million votes.
There is no other political election in America where the person with the most popular votes is not the winner of the election.
The Founding Fathers might have seen the Electoral College as a necessary bulwark against mass popular control at the time, but once we began having popular votes in the 1824 Presidential election, it was an advancement of democracy, and the idea that a popular vote loser would win the Presidency was appalling.
It happened in 1824 in a four person race, but then, it occurred in 1876 with a two person race, and then in 1888, again with a two person race.
Since it did not happen again for more than a century, it was assumed to be flukes that would not happen again, and over the years of my teaching career, I was often asked whether it would happen again, and I responded, that while it could happen, it was highly unlikely that it would.
And then came the Presidential Election of 2000, where George W. Bush won with Supreme Court intervention stopping the recount in the state of Florida, winning that state over Al Gore by 537 votes out of six million cast, and therefore barely winning the Electoral College, despite a 540,000 popular vote lead nationally of Al Gore.
In 2016, the situation was even worse, as Donald Trump won by very small margins in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton nationally by 2.85 million popular votes, so five and a half times the popular vote lead for Clinton over Trump as compared to Gore over Bush in 2000, but Trump winning the Electoral College, but only 12 national elections with a smaller electoral vote majority out of a total number of 58 national elections.
The problem is trying to end the Electoral College by constitutional amendment is dead upon arrival, as it requires a two thirds vote of the House of Representatives and a two thirds vote of the Senate, followed by a majority vote in both houses of state legislatures (except in the one house of Nebraska) in three fourths of the states (38 out of 50). Clearly, that will never happen, particularly with Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, and four of the five times that the Electoral College failed, the ultimate winner was a Republican, and the loser each time was a Democrat.
But the alternative is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact Agreement, developed in recent years, with 10 states and Washington DC with 165 electoral votes agreeing by legislation that they would support the popular vote winner nationally, instructing their electors to do so. The problem is that the 10 states and DC are clearly, at this point, Democratic or “Blue” states—California, DC, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State.
Once states with 105 additional electoral votes agree to pass such legislation, it would go into effect, but that is the more difficult matter. At this point, 12 states with 96 electoral votes have had one house of the state legislature agree to such a law—Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma,and Oregon. Also, two other states have had committees in the state legislature approve it unanimously, with these two states—Georgia and Missouri—having 27 additional electoral votes.
So if all these states that have taken partial action completed the process in the next few years, we would have 24 states and DC, with a majority of the total popular vote and population, being capable of awarding the Presidency to the winner of the national popular vote, and this would end the idea of a popular vote loser becoming President.
Republican reliable states—Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Missouri—are part of this group, but the question is whether they will take the steps to put it into effect.
While there is no certainty this will ever happen, there is optimism that it will eventually occur, as otherwise, the possibility of a return of 2000 and 2016 is highly likely in the future, and not just once.
If this were to occur, it would promote a truly national Presidential campaign, instead of the present focus in recent decades on 12-15 states, and ignoring the clear cut “Blue” and “Red” states in favor of the “Purple” or “Swing” states alone.