|By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
How do you reconcile the cry of American forefathers that “all men are created equal” with the notion back then that only men could vote? Or that Black men, who couldn’t, would be counted as three-fifths of a person, which ended up giving more political power to people who enslaved others?
The same contradictions were at work when the Constitution’s framers developed the Electoral College, which has played a more visible role in recent presidential elections. With the founders divided, and some distrustful of a straight-up popular vote, they settled on an indirect selection for president, by “electors” whose numbers were based on a state’s congressional representation. Even though it’s confusing, distorting, and unpopular, the once-every-four-years Electoral College has been hard to get rid of.
As Erin Blakemore explains for Nat Geo, when Americans vote for president, they are actually choosing 538 members of the Electoral College, which will cast votes on their behalf. Two things distinguish the Electoral College from the popular vote: One, it’s the total of all members of the U.S. House of Representatives (numbered by proportion of population as counted by the U.S. Census) and senators (two per state, no matter how big or small). Two, 48 states have a winner-take-all electoral delegate system off the popular vote. The two factors have led to five presidents being “elected” but losing the popular vote, including in 2000 and 2016. And it explains why presidential campaigns mainly take place in narrowly divided states, such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida. (Here’s a brief video examination).
Attempts to eliminate the 233-year-old Electoral College have failed. When U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (pictured above) tried to get Congress not to certify the 2016 Electoral College victory for Donald Trump, which went against his more than 2.8 million popular vote deficit to Hillary Clinton, not a single member of the Senate would support her.
“It’s over,” the outgoing vice president, Joe Biden, told Waters.
One thing seems likely about the days ahead—and of future elections. The complaints about the Electoral College will go on. Here’s more background.
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