Dear Mz. Polly, How is it possible to win the Electoral College and not the popular vote? Confused in Colorado
Dear Confused, The short answer is California. With some 49 million citizens, it is by far the largest State in our union and 4.2 million more Californians voted for Clinton than for Trump.
Want to dive deeper? Look at the 10 most populous States. Clinton only won 3 of them: California, New York and Illinois. But in those States,she earned over 5 million more votes than Trump.
On the other hand, Trump won 7 of the 10 most populated States. Big wins in lesser populated States that chose Trump whittled away at that margin. But in the end, estimates say Clinton earned 2,868,686 more votes than Trump did according to The Federal Election Commission.
Of course, Trump also won 30 of the 50 States. And, with the help of the Electoral College, that made all the difference.
So what exactly is the Electoral College and why do we have it? As you may know, the founders were relatively obsessed with balancing power between population and statehood. That’s why they created the two Houses of Congress. The number of seats in the House Representatives each State gets depends on the population. Every 10 years, following the Census, the 435 seats are reallocated according to population. One State might lose a representative or two while another State gains a seat or two.
But in the Senate, all States are equal. Every State gets two Senators no matter how many people live there. All this was done deliberately, and ingeniously, to balance power so States with lesser populations weren’t always dominated by States with the most people.
The framers wanted that same balance in the Presidential election. So instead of people voting directly for President, the Constitution creates Electors in each State. So no matter how many times you’ve voted, you’ve never voted for President. You’ve voted for an elector in your State who then votes for President.
The number of Electors a State gets is equal to the number of Congressional seats that State has plus its two senators. As a result, the power skews ever so slightly toward the smaller States just like the Senate does.
That’s what happened in 2016. That slight advantage was enough to give Trump 304 electoral votes, well over the 270 required, making him the nation’s 45th President.
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