Thoughts on How Winners Lose and Losers Win

As previously mentioned, I’m thinking through some things in regard to politics and our political system. The one thing that keeps sticking out like a sore thumb is the fact that a presidential nominee can lose the race and still receive the highest number of popular votes by the electorate. What is the point of voting, if your vote doesn’t count, and that’s the feeling a lot of people have right now.

This is the second time in only 16 years that a candidate has lost the Presidency despite having won the popular vote. There were two other instances in 1801 and 1824 when none of the candidates receive the required number of Electoral College votes, primarily because there were strong 3rd party candidates running. So, the vote was sent to the Senate to choose the President. (This is a very simplified version of how the voting process works.)

12432265 - political parties on a crossroads sign featuring democrat and republican

However, in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely for a 3rd party candidate to ever win the Presidency. If the vote goes to the Senate, the majority party in the Senate will choose their party’s candidate, and that is a forgone conclusion. This outcome is a combination of simple math and party politics. I believe that this is why both Trump and Sanders chose to join one of the two major political parties in order to mount an effective campaign. They knew they had no chance to win outside of the two party system.

As a regular citizen, I personally found it strange that both the Republican and Democratic Parties accepted these two candidates just so that they could have a chance of becoming President. Frankly, I don’t think the Republicans knew how to get rid of Trump because of their political structure paired with the fact that he became a lightning rod for a large portion of their base who desperately wanted change. However, the Democrats have a much tighter political structure, and (my personal feeling is) they did not want a third party candidate using their platform in order to run for president. So, they voted for Clinton. Again, this is a much more complicated process than the simplistic way that I have described it here, but I think this sums up how we arrived at a Trump vs. Clinton election in 2016.

Now, back to my original point. Twice in the last 16 years, the Presidential nominee with the highest number of popular votes lost the election because of how the Electoral College votes are distributed to the states. More people wanted Clinton, her policies, and the path that was set by President Obama. As a result, she received nearly 1,000,000 more votes than Trump. That is a lot of votes!

Yet, Clinton lost. Not because we didn’t want her and not because she didn’t receive the highest number of votes. She lost because of an outdated mechanism that was written into the voting process for our elections — a mechanism that has proven to elect the second most popular candidate and a mechanism that effectively eliminates any potential for a 3rd party to win the Presidency. That means the kind of change people want just isn’t possible.

While I don’t want to be hasty, in saying that it is time to end the Electoral College, I do think it is important that the President-Elect receive a majority of the votes cast by the electorate. The emerging pattern of Presidential losses caused by the Electoral College is disturbing. This rule was created to help us choose a candidate when there was no clear winner. However, it is now caused us to elect the runner up, not once, but twice in fewer than two decades. This is one of the primary reasons that the people who voted for Hillary Clinton are so upset. Their candidate WON the popular vote and still lost.

True change within a democratic system comes with fair rules and equality in the voting system, and the Electoral College may have outlived its original purpose and could now be causing more harm than good as people begin to distrust the process and outcome. However, if we were to get rid of the Electoral College, we may end up with something worse. Perhaps we just need to adjust it to more accurately reflect the voting public’s choice.

I am not sure of the answer here, but I do believe that it’s important for us to think about these things and for people who voted for Trump to empathize with the frustration that Hillary voters have in losing the election despite having nearly a million more votes. Quite simply, it does feel like a rigged system, and I hate saying that since it was one of Trump’s favorite lines when he thought he might lose.

2016-dems-repsSo, please remember that a Trump Presidency was not a mandate by the people, endorsing his policies. He lost the popular vote. In other words, more people voted against him than for him in 2016:

  • Hillary = 61,279,925 Votes
  • Hillary + 3rd Party = 68,287,994 Votes
  • Trump = 60,586,111 Votes

Trump’s win is not the American people’s endorsement of his Presidency, his policies, and his choices. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and protect the policies and practices that a majority of American’s actually desires. This is not something we can do every 4 years. We need to participate much more actively on a regular basis.

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One Response to Thoughts on How Winners Lose and Losers Win

  1. Wes Brodsky says:

    Hi Erin;

    The Electoral College originated with the idea that the “United States” would be a group of fairly independent “States”. It is sort of like the United Nations General Assembly, where each country gets one vote, independent of its population or even how democratic it is. Before our Civil War, people said “The United States ARE doing such and such”. It was only after the Civil War that it changed to “The United States IS doing such and such”.
    I agree that it would be good if direct voting replaced the Electoral College. However, I do not see the possibility of a Constitutional change to do this. First, the College favors states with lower populations. These states would not support the change. Second, many states are dominated by a particular party. For example, there were some people in Massachusetts which voted Republican, but a majority usually votes Democratic. Our Democratic-dominated legislature would rather have all of Massachusetts’ voting power go to the Democratic Party. So, the same biases that the Electoral College creates, help to perpetuate it.

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