Last week, Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election even though more people actually voted for Hilary Clinton. How is this possible?
Presidential elections in the United States actually have two parts. The first part is the popular vote. This is when people all around the country go to polls to cast votes. The second part involves the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a group of 538 people. They are called electors. The electors participate in a second round of voting called the electoral vote. This vote, not the popular vote, is what officially elects the next US president.
A presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win an election. Each state gets a number of electors based on its population. In most states, the political party that wins the popular vote gets to send its electors to vote in the Electoral College. This year, the electors will vote on December 15. However, because electors almost always vote for their party’s candidate, people are acting like the vote has already happened.
Because this second vote is what actually determines who will become president, a presidential candidate can lose the popular vote but still become president. That is what happened this year. It also happened when Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and George W. Bush were elected.
Why do we have this complicated process? When the nation’s founders were writing the US Constitution, they disagreed about how the president should be chosen. Some thought that members of Congress should select the president. Others thought that the people should be allowed to choose. They created the Electoral College as a compromise.