ATLANTA — ATLANTA – The winner of the popular vote isn’t necessarily the candidate who wins the White House, leaving some voters to wonder why the United States continues to use the Electoral College.
Four times in U.S. history, a presidential candidate has lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College and the election. The most recent was President Donald Trump in 2016.
“Why in 2020 do we still use the Electoral College?” wonders 11Alive viewer Michele Kulakowski.
The framers of the Constitution wanted a strong executive to run the country, but not too powerful.
“What that meant was that the states would have to give up the power that some were not inclined to give up,” says Emory University Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie.
The compromise between Presidential power and state power is the Electoral College.
“They wanted the states, all of the states, to play a role in the selection of the President,” says Kennesaw State Political Science Professor Kerwin Swint.
Each state gets a minimum of three electors to represent them in the Electoral College. The exact number depends on how many representatives the state has in Congress.
In general, the Presidential candidate who wins a state gets all of the electors there. It’s rare, but electors have, on occasion, gone in a different direction from the vote of the state.
Whoever wins a majority of the 538 electors wins the Electoral College and the Presidency.
Swint says without the Electoral College, a handful of states would dominate the process.
“California and New York would basically select every President based on population along with Florida and Texas,” says Swint.
Gillespie points out that abandoning the Electoral College would be tough.
“It would require a new Constitutional amendment, and that ratification process would be really difficult,” says Gillespie.
A 2018 Pew Research Survey indicates most Americans, 58%, would like to abandon the electoral college and leave choosing the President to the popular vote.
Interestingly, in 1824, John Quincy Adams was selected to serve as President despite not winning either the popular vote or the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but didn’t gain enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency. The final say was left up to the House of Representatives, who selected Adams.