The Electoral College

So we had two primary presidential candidates (and by primary, I mean two with actual chances of winning). And the candidate more people voted for lost

So how does that work? People say this country's a democracy, right?

Well, not quite: especially when it comes to electing the president. When the Constitutional Convention met in 1787, the question of how to elect a president of the United States was considered quite a conundrum.  They considered several different methods of election: for example, having Congress or legislatures of the individual states choose the president. What was beyond the pale for many members of the Convention, however, is what seems so obvious and desirable to us: direct popular vote. The individual states were jealous of their powers and privileges. And many states, for their own reasons, sharply limited the right to vote. Thus states that allowed more people (read: white men) to vote, would have more influence in choosing the president. States with limited suffrage, such as Virginia, blocked the idea of a popular vote.

So a committee of convention members came up with the idea of a College of Electors: a small group of men from each state would be chosen to elect the president. This idea was on based on an Ancient Roman institution called the Centuriate Assembly (Ancient Roman history was a core subject in eighteenth-century education). The plan for the Electoral College was revised repeatedly, but the upshot is that Electors were apportioned to states based on population count,* not on the number of voters, and it is mathematically possible for a presidential candidate to win a majority of Electoral College votes but not a majority of the votes cast by the people. It's happened five times so far: to Andrew Jackson (1824), Samuel Tilden (1876), Grover Cleveland (1888), Al Gore (2000) and now Hillary Clinton.

*Which originally included slaves.

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