April 22, 2020

Donald Trump won the United States presidency with 290 votes in the electoral college. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 62,568,373 votes, as of Nov. 16, to President-elect Trump’s 61,336,159.

The electoral college has overruled the popular vote for the second time in the last five presidential elections. If all votes were weighed evenly, Clinton would have received 259 votes in the electoral college. Trump would have 256. Candidates from other parties would also have received electoral college votes.

The United States has faced this conflict between the electoral college and the popular vote only four times in the nation’s history (five, if you include John Quincy Adams’s election). But it’s happening more and more often.

Here’s why the electoral college’s results are, increasingly, diverging from the results of the popular vote.

But it’s not doing any of this today. Rather, the electoral college values some votes above others, while entirely disenfranchising the 4 million Americans who live in overseas territories.

Every election system has to balance such goals as proportionality, stability and accountability. Elections need to legitimately translate votes into winners; winning parties need to be able to govern effectively; and elected officials need to be accountable to voters.

The electoral college is designed to favor sparsely populated areas. It was created to strengthen the agrarian elite, offer more federal power to slaveholding states, and counterbalance factionalism and polarization.

The United States uses a simple system that is easy to understand, that helps keep the government stable, and that keeps officials accountable to the citizens who elect them. But the results are not proportional to the population. Nationally, parties often fail to win office in the same proportion that they win votes.