The prospect of it happening again this year has sparked yet another campaign to abolish the electoral college in favor of a simple majority.
However, the electoral college has proven resilient and constitutional requirements make it difficult to change or remove. Here’s why it was so polarizing.
Some say the electoral college ignores the will of the people
All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – all cast their votes to the presidential candidate who wins the referendum in that state. Whichever candidate wins the majority of votes nationwide – at least 270 – becomes president.
Three times in the 19th century, the popular vote winner missed the presidency after falling short on electoral college, leading to complaints that the system was ignoring the will of the people.
The urge to replace him intensified after the bitter presidential election of 2000, when Al Gore won the referendum by more than half a million votes, but lost the election to George W. Bush after the Supreme Court held a Florida recount, the decisive state, had stopped.
Electoral college opponents received more ammunition in 2016 when Hillary Clinton received nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump but still lost.
Since then, the movement to get rid of the electoral college has gained momentum. But also the resistance to change it.
Some historians say it is rooted in racism
“Both during and after slavery, well into the 20th century, the states of the South stood firmly against accepting a national referendum,” he said. “The south was of course the bulwark of the opposition in the time of slavery, because slave states received additional votes thanks to the three-fifths clause.
“The southern white people have gained additional influence over the electoral college, and if they had switched to a national referendum they would have lost that influence,” said Keyssar.
In this way, the southern states used slave populations to increase their political influence without having to recognize slaves as equals with whites. Most of the slaves also had no voting rights.
“The electoral college brought the same compromise of three-fifths into the presidential election, giving the southern states political power from the start that was disproportionate to their white populations,” said Keyssar.
Even now, some southern states believe that abolishing the electoral college would diminish their influence and undermine white power, Keyssar said.
“The presence of racism and white supremacy in the south is helping to prevent the country from passing a national referendum instead of the electoral college,” he said.
Not everyone supports getting rid of it
America’s electoral system has long confused the world. But some experts have defended it, saying the process gives less populated states a voice.
“The electoral college is a very carefully designed structure that the constitution’s drafters put in place to balance the competing interests of large and small states,” wrote Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal counsel for the Heritage Foundation and former commissioner of the FEC.
“It prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers (the big cities) and ignoring smaller states and the more rural areas of the country. … The college forces candidates to support a larger one Seeking the cross – part of the American electorate – to win a series of regional elections. “
While critics of the system have argued that Hillary Clinton wrongly lost the election, Spakovsky says her case is a perfect example of why the electoral college works better than the majority vote.
“Framer’s fears of ‘majority tyranny’ remain very current to this day. Their significance can be seen in the fact that despite their national Hillary Clinton support, they won only about one-sixth of counties nationwide, mostly urban ones Areas on both coasts, “he said.
“What would actually happen if they did what they say they will do, the whites have nothing to say,” LePage said in a radio interview. “It will only be the minorities who would vote. It would be California, Texas, Florida. In all the small states like Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana and Rhode Island, you will never see a presidential candidate again.”
“You will never see anyone come into our state on the national stage,” he added. “We’re going to be forgotten people. It’s a crazy, crazy process.”
Reform or abolition would be difficult
In a 2018 poll, 65% of Americans supported the election of the president by popular vote, compared to 32% who preferred the electoral college.
However, removing the electoral college would be difficult for several reasons.
It takes years to amend the Constitution and requires a large majority in Congress or state legislatures. Smaller states that benefit from the electoral college would have to give up some of this power.
Politics has also played a role in conservation. Many Republicans believe that electoral college is more beneficial to their party.
“They think it is to their advantage to keep the electoral college. And since you need the two-thirds in Congress to change the constitution, it is difficult to do that when one party is against it,” Keyssar said. The current electoral system also divides power between the federal government and states, making it complex to reform part of it, he added.
Good or bad, American voters may not be leaving the electoral college anytime soon.
CNN’s Zachary B. Wolf contributed to this report