Why, in a democracy, can a presidential candidate be elected without winning a majority of the votes cast ? Isn't that what a democracy is supposed to be about?
The reason, of course, is the electoral college, a system that resulted in Donald Trump now occupying the White House rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton, and why George W. Bush was elected instead of Al Gore, both of whom won more actual votes but lost because Trump and Bush, respectively, accumulated the necessary 270 electoral votes for their election. See this editorial cartoon by Tim Toles in The Washington Post.
Now, there is a drive on two fronts to change that and actually turn the election of the president back to the American people. But don't hold your breath.
On one front, Democratic candidates like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and South Bend, IN, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are calling for an end of the Electoral College, and former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke said there is "a lot of wisdom" in the idea.
Said Warren at a CNN town hall on Monday, "I believe we need a constitutional amendment that protects the right to vote for every American citizen and to make sure that vote gets counted. We can have national voting, and that means get rid of the electoral college."
While enacting an amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress and ratification by 38 of the current 50 states, Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee has gotten the ball rolling. He has proposed a joint resolution to "abolish the Electoral College and to provide for the direct election of the President and Vice President of the United States."
Of course President Trump and his Republican supporters immediately fired back at electoral college opponents. Tweeted Trump:
"Campaigning for the Popular Vote is much easier & different than campaigning for the Electoral College. It’s like training for the 100 yard dash vs. a marathon. The brilliance of the Electoral College is that you must go to many States to win. With the Popular Vote, you go to.....just the large States - the Cities would end up running the Country. Smaller States & the entire Midwest would end up losing all power - & we can’t let that happen. I used to like the idea of the Popular Vote, but now realize the Electoral College is far better for the U.S.A."
Yea, he likes it. It enabled him to win the election without winning a majority of the votes cast.
As Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman points out, the electoral college actually forces candidates to campaign only in the small number of "battleground" states where the vote is close. In 2016, Trump, Clinton and their running mates made two-thirds of their visits to just six states -- Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan, and 94 percent went to just 12 states. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia were ignored.
Action by the States On the second front, there is a drive by some states to take advantage of Article I of the Constitution that, according to Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, essentially says states can award electors according to the national vote.
Eleven states and the District of Columbia with a combined total of 181 electoral votes have entered into a National Popular Vote Interstate Compact." Eighty-nine additional electoral votes are needed to reach the 270 needed to elect the president. However, Turley believes such an action would invite a legal challenge.
Of course, Republicans like the current system because smaller, more Republican states gain more power than a popular vote system that would benefit typically Democratic large, urbanized states.
The bottom line?
Unless the Compact idea actually reaches its 270 threshold for the next presidential election, don't look for changes unless Democrats gain control of both houses of Congress, the White House and a sufficient number of states to ratify a constitutional amendment.