Because of the Electoral College, for the second time in 16 years, the person with the most votes will not become president. It is likely that Hillary Clinton will have a margin of more than 2,000,000 votes. This will make her the most popular presidential candidate to ever lose a presidential election. She follows in the footsteps of Al Gore, Grover Cleveland, Samuel Tilden, Andrew Jackson, and probably John Adams.
We know the Electoral College is deeply undemocratic. Presidential electors are allocated by adding the two senators to the number of representatives each state gets. Thus the smallest states have proportionally more power in electing the president than the large ones. In 2016 Donald Trump won 66 electoral votes from 14 small states, with a total population of about 26,300,000. Hillary Clinton won 55 electoral votes from California, with a population of 37,254,000. The math is clear. Twenty-six million people substantially outvoted thirty-seven million people. Something is clearly wrong.
How did we get such an insane, undemocratic system for choosing our president? The answer, oddly enough is because of slavery. The system was explicitly designed to protect slavery. One hundred and fifty years after the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, this proslavery provision lurks in our political backyard, like some horrible monster, waiting to spring on us to undermine the very notion of democratic government in the world’s oldest constitutional democracy.
How did we come up with the Electoral College? The classic explanations are that the Framers feared the common voters and that the Electoral College was needed to protect the small states from the large states. But, except for a complaint about voters from Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, there is no evidence in the records of the Constitutional Convention to support the first contention. On the second issue, delegates rejected allowing governors to choose the national executive precisely because the delegates feared the governors from the more numerous small states would outvote the larger states. Thus, both explanations are essentially urban legends that hide the real origin of the Electoral College.
While discussing how to choose the national executive, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, proposed that the chief executive be elected by “the people,” citing the successful experience of the popular election of governors in New York and Massachusetts. He argued that only the most famous people would be chosen under such a method. Later, Gouverneur Morris also argued in favor of election by the people: “He ought to be elected by the people at large, by the freeholders of the Country.” Morris argued that “If the people should elect, they will never fail to prefer some man of distinguished character, or services; some man, if he might so speak, of continental reputation.”