At last tally, Democrat Hillary Clinton was leading Donald Trump by something like 2.8 million votes from the Nov. 8 presidential election. But if the tradition of the Electoral College holds, Trump will in effect be elected by that “college” Monday. It is a custom that goes back to the founding of the Republic.
What Americans really vote for on election day is the members of the Electoral College. Once the popular vote is complete, the electors reflecting the victors in their states meet and follow the will of the people they represent. Though electors occasionally go their own ways, almost all if not all will follow the rules. The process of picking a president in this way originated will the good intention of preventing shenanigans that the founders feared might happen in a straight-ahead popular vote. The Electoral College would add another layer of “protection” for the integrity of the democracy. Or so the theory went, and electors, of course, are faithful to the parties, and in effect the people, they represent.
Off and on over the last two centuries or so, as the country has grown in population, debates have come and gone as to whether the country should consider doing away with the Electoral College and going to a popular vote. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore lost to Texas Gov. George W. Bush thanks to Bush’s victory in Florida, when Bush won that state’s popular and therefore electoral vote, confirmed by a Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court. But Gore won the popular vote nationally by 500,000 votes.
This year, there’s a bit of rumbling among Democrats — though not encouraged by Clinton — because the former secretary of state’s margin is several times that of Gore, although her advantage still is small considering that 125 million or so votes were cast. Those who are complaining, of course, will be labeled sore losers by Trump’s allies — though he indicated that if he lost the election, he might not “accept” the results. If anything, Trump expected a popular vote victory but an Electoral College defeat.
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Now he stands to gain the presidency because he won the most electoral votes (totaling the number of senators and representatives in each state, plus the District of Columbia). In our democracy, that’s called fair and square, playing by the rules.
But has the time come to change the rules, to ensure the upholding of that most sacred of all principles of democracy, that it reflect the will of the people? It would do no harm for Congress to examine either tweaks to the current system or a move toward a straight popular vote to decide all elections. That’s not sour grapes; it reflects the need to periodically examine traditions — and some not-so-glorious traditions, for example, have been abandoned over the last 200 years with Constitutional Amendments. They were no threat to the Republic — in fact, they strengthened it.