Can The Winner Of The Popular Vote Lose The Election? It's Only Happened Once In The Last Century
As the weeks, days, and even hours until Election Day dwindle down, Donald Trump is trying to cast doubt on the American election system. Lately, the Republican presidential nominee has been calling the legitimacy of our elections in to question, perhaps in an effort to preempt a possible defeat on Nov. 8. People from both sides of the aisle have denounced the assertions. But with a voting system as complex as ours, it's easy to see how people have trouble understanding how our elections works.
At its very foundation, a vote should require a majority. That's democratic decision-making 101. If people are split on an issue, give everyone involved an opportunity to vote and the side with the most votes wins. Sounds simple enough. But that's not how U.S. presidential elections work. Our presidential winners are determined by the Electoral College, where each state is given a number of votes that coincides with its population. Therefore, a state like Wyoming only has three votes, while California has 55.
The thought that not every vote counts directly toward electing the president discourages many from going to the polls on Election Day. For a Republican in New York, a stronghold blue state in modern politics, voting may seem meaningless. And the case is strengthened when we look at the fact that a candidate can win the most individual votes — also called the popular vote — but still manage to lose the election. However, this situation has only happened four times in the history of our country, and only once in the last 128 years.
In 2000, George W. Bush, then the governor of Texas, was battling Al Gore, then-vice president, for the presidency. The race came down to one state — Florida where there was the historic recount. After weeks of deliberation, it was determined that Bush won the most votes in Florida, putting him above the required 270 electoral votes to clinch the election. Bush became president, even though Gore won the popular vote by more than half a million votes, overall. The only other times this happened were in the elections of 1824, 1876 and 1888.
Some states are seeking election reform, to combat the image that every vote doesn't matter, and make it a more equitable process. Some states are looking to lose the winner-take-all method, and instead, allocate each electoral vote according to who wins in each congressional district. Some are looking to adopt a ranked vote system, to allow voters a chance to vow third party without "throwing away" their vote.
But in a system where individual votes aren't the single deciding factor, it seems like it will be easier for Trump to disparage any results that don't go his way.