Electoral College Redux

I want to make one observation about the result on Tuesday.  You all know that Hillary Clinton is on track to win the national popular vote (by how much is still unclear).  You also know that this has occurred before.  What you may not know, though, is that this result is somewhat unusual.

Here’s why.  Since the Twelfth Amendment reformed the Electoral College in 1804, there have been three types of elections where the popular vote winner lost.  One was in 1824, when four candidates won electoral votes.  This is unlikely to happen again (indeed, no third-party candidate has won a state since 1968). The second involved some angry dispute over the result in one or more states that cost the national popular vote winner the election.  Hayes beat Tilden in 1876 on the basis of the disputed electoral votes in Florida (and two other Southern states), and Bush beat Gore in 2000 based on a dispute over Florida.

In this election, there is no dispute over the result in any state.  The popular vote winner in what was essentially a two-person race just lost.  The only time this happened before was 1888, when Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College.  I don’t know enough about that election to explain why that happened then (strangely, Cleveland lost his home state of New York, which was decisive), but perhaps there is something to learn there.

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9 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    The disputes are interesting and important in certain ways but bottom line this election rested on a popular vote that did not match the electoral vote, something that now happened twice [granting Florida] in sixteen years.

  2. dht says:

    This is exactly why the framers of the constitution created the electoral college. They did not want larger states to dominate the presidency. In the current situation the dominance would be of urban areas at the expense of rural areas.

    • Joe says:

      Alexander Hamilton in Federalist 68 explained “exactly why” the Electoral College was created and “larger states” (didn’t realize PA et. al. were that small) dominating wasn’t what he focused upon. One thing he discussed was the concern an unmediated process that merely trusted the people themselves was dangerous. This anti-democratic concern along with benefiting slave states given the 3/5 compromise were major reasons “exactly why” the EC was put in place.

      Since then, various provisions and history itself advanced the concern for democracy overall. Note now the “dominance” of those in power is in the hands of those who received less votes. And, people in urban as well as rural are gays or need abortion rights or whatever. Anyway, if we are concerned with “the framers” here, perhaps the WHOLE story should be told when words like “exactly” is tossed around

      • dht says:

        Perhaps “exactly” is too strong a word. However, that does not, completely, refute my original position. According to Wikipedia (I know, not the most authoritative of sources, but not useless either) “Delegates from the small states generally favored the Electoral College out of concern large states would otherwise control presidential elections.” Furthermore, James Madison, in Federalist 39, spoke of the election of the President as being both National and Federal, i.e. not putting the full responsibility for the election of the President on either the states or the people.

        As to people from rural areas being gay, or needing abortions, I agree. My point was simply that in the current political climate, Democrats draw disproportionate numbers of votes from urban areas, and Republicans draw disproportionate numbers of votes from rural areas. This has not always been the case, and could change in the future, but right now it is what it is.

        Since the number of Representative is Congress, and therefore the number of electoral votes, was capped by law some years ago, the power of rural voters has increased. Urban congressional districts tend to have more people than rural districts. States such as Vermont, Wyoming, Alaska, etc. have fewer people than many urban congressional districts.

        • Joe says:

          It’s fine to reference that there is a federalism aspect to the Electoral College, but we don’t need to go to Wikipedia. Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist discussed what was in their minds, and tempering democracy by entrusting the vote in a protected elite was front and center.

          The quote from Madison doesn’t change this much at all & I appreciate any qualifier on how “exactly” is rather strong and tbh misleading. Also, Madison himself realized free v. slave states was probably a more important division at the time. In practice, it is not ‘small states’ as much as a few key swing states. And, Trump won them this time. How much the Framers was right here can be debated too, so that only goes so far.

          As to ‘your point,’ your one comment was on what “exactly” what the Framers wanted, wasn’t it? What you said in your second comment is noted, but I wasn’t answering a comment that seemed to say that. As to numbers, districts need to have generally the same amount of votes under ‘one person, one vote’ principles within certain states. It can’t be totally equalized nation-wide because each state has to have at least one member & districts can’t cross state lines. The electoral v. popular vote differential comes from “running up the score” in certain areas more than that anyhow.

          • Joe says:

            ETA: On the whole “point” of your comment, I wish to correct one thing. I re-read your comment and you seem to have two points — one on framer understanding and another on current application. That’s noted.

  3. Gerard Magliocca says:

    I would point out that every state favors urban voters over rural voters by electing their governors through a direct popular vote. I don’t hear anybody complaining about that.

    • dht says:

      True, and a good point, though I am sure some people somewhere do complain about it. For example, I live in Maryland, where a governor can, and has been, elected with a majority in just 3 of 24 jurisdictions (2 counties and Baltimore City). Maryland is generally a reliably Democratic state (though it does currently have a Republican governor), but you would not know it if you only visited the rural areas. In fact, there was some talk a year or so ago about the western part of the state seceding because they felt the Democrats in the Capital ignored their needs.

  4. John Dereszewski says:

    Just to add a comment on the 1888 election. I think the supporters of Harrison minimized the significance of the fact that their candidate received fewer popular votes than did Cleveland by pointing to the extensive repression of the (mostly Republican) Black vote that was already occurring in most of the Southern States in this post Reconstruction period. Even if these votes would not have made a difference in winning individual States for Harrison, their tabulation would almost certainly have provided the GOP candidate with a majority of the popular vote.