In 2016 almost 3,000,000 more Americans voted for candidate Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump in the presidential election. However, the electoral college saved Donald Trump and allowed him to become president for the past four years. This phenomenon of a candidate being elected who did not win a majority of the popular vote on in the election has actually happened in five of our nations fifty-eight presidential elections. It happened in the following elections:
1824 — John Quincy Adams (Republican- Democrat) defeated Andrew Jackson
1876—Rutherford Hayes (Republican) defeated Samuel Tilden (Democrat)
1888 – Benjamin Harrison (Republican) defeated Grover Cleveland (Democrat)
2000– George W Bush (Republican) defeated Al Gore (Democrat)
2016— Donald Trump (Republican) defeated Hilary Rodham Clinton (Democrat)
Therefore, it is not an uncommon occurrence that our president was not elected by the majority of the popular vote. This institution is known as the Electoral College.
The Electoral College was created by the United States Constitution. A group of figures in political parties are known as the electors and they actually cast a vote for the president. When a voter casts the ballot, surprisingly, it does not count directly in the presidential election. All of the votes in each state are tallied with those who live in the same state and the candidate with the most votes in that state wins what is known as the “popular vote of each state.” The designated electors for each state then cast their vote in mid-December to mirror the winner of that particular states popular vote, not the vote of the nation as a whole.
In the 2016 election Hillary Rodham Clinton had approximately 65.9 million votes in the popular vote in the United States compared to Donald Trump’s approximately 63 million. However, Donald Trump won 304 electoral votes over Clintons 227 electoral votes making him the 45th president. Over the years there has been extremely contentious debates regarding the Electoral College. The United States is the only country in the world with this type of electoral system. After the 2016 election, a Pew Research Center report ( https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/22/among-democracies-u-s-stands-out-in-how-it-chooses-its-head-of-state/ ) found that only seven of the forty-one democracies in the world with a head of state and national government body do not directly elect their leader, but rather do it by way of vote of legislative bodies. Only the United States has a completely separate body (the Electoral College) that is created every four years for the sole purpose to elect the president of United States. The system was created at a time when communication was sparse, and people could not physically get to a polling place or communicate their vote. The United States Constitution was written during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. At that time, there was no phone, there was no email, there were not even motor vehicles. It was created as a compromise between the delegates who feared corruption of Congress choosing the president. The delegates wanted away for the people to elect the President of United States.
NUMBER OF ELECTORAL VOTES PER STATE
Each states electoral votes match the number of representatives they have in the House of Representatives and two senators. For example, Nevada has six electoral votes because we have four members in the House of Representatives and two United States senators. Washington DC received three electoral votes by the addition of the 23rd amendment in 1861. Therefore, there are a total of 538 electoral votes in each presidential election. A candidate needs a majority or at least 270 electoral votes to win the presidential election. If a candidate does not win a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives chooses the president, and the Senate chooses the vice president.
Most states, including the state of Nevada use a winner take all method for awarding the electoral votes of their own state. This means that even if one candidate wins the state by only one vote, that the winning candidate will receive all of the electoral votes for our state. Interestingly, there are two states that have a different system which are Nebraska and Maine. In those two states, the electoral votes are distributed based on who won the popular vote for each congressional district and the remaining two electoral votes for those states are awarded to the overall winner of the popular vote in the state.
ELECTORAL COLLEGE BY STATE VS OVERALL US POPULAR VOTE
Those who remain in favor of the electoral college are smaller states who believe it gives them political weight and prevents them from being railroaded by states with large populations. They believe that this forces presidential candidates to run a national campaign. They believe it also forces candidates to consider the needs and circumstances of voters in every state across the country and not just those in the highly populated metropolitan areas.
Opponents of the electoral college argue that the power given to rural and swing states such as our state of Nevada is too much for the small population. They argue that the power given to heavily populated states is not enough.
The best way to explain the different views is to compare the state of California which is the most populated state with approximately 39 1/2 million people and the state of Wyoming which is the least populated state with an estimated population of about 575,000. Electoral votes in each state do not represent the same number of voters. Dividing electoral votes by population, each one of California’s 55 votes represents about 720,000 people while one electoral vote of Wyoming’s three, the minimum number of electoral votes, represents only about 193,000 people. This explains how a winner of the popular vote can lose the electoral college by a large margin. Opponents of the electoral college argue that this distorts the representation of the overall population.
PROPOSALS FOR CHANGE
Over the years there have been proposed legislations remove or change the power of the Electoral College. Since it is codified in our Constitution, it cannot be removed without a constitutional amendment. However, states can legislate how they direct their electors to vote. In order to remove this disparity in electing our president many states have enacted a law that states all of the electoral votes of their state go to the winner of the popular vote of the country. This would mean for example that if Nevada voted for a candidate, our electors would be directed to vote for the winner of the popular vote of the nation, not necessarily the popular vote of Nevada. Currently 15 states including Washington DC follow this method that have and have a combined 196 electoral votes. However, that is not enough for the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency. The Nevada legislature nearly approved joining this compact in the 2019 legislative session. Governor Steve Sisolak made that bill his first veto saying he would rather “follow the will of Nevada voters rather than the nation as a whole.” The pact between the 15 states requires each state to give all of their electoral votes to the winning candidate of the national popular vote.
The Nevada Bill was known as AB186 and Governor Steve Sisolak issued his first veto of the 2019 legislative session by rejecting the proposal that would have pledged Nevada’s six electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote for presidency. If all states joined this pack, there would no longer be value of the electoral college because every state would give their votes to there to whoever won the national popular vote. AB186 was sponsored by the late Democratic assemblyman Tyrone Thompson and proved to be controversial in front of the legislature. It was one of the closest votes of the session. Those in favor argued you that it would ensure every vote counted equally while opponents argued that it would diminish the relevance of Nevada and other small states. Sisolak stated “the effect of The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would diminish the role of smaller states like Nevada and national electoral contests and force Nevada’s electors statewide to side with whoever wins the nationwide popular vote rather than the candidate Nevada chooses.” Sisolak went on to state that “I recognize that many of my fellow Nevadans may disagree on this point and I appreciate the legislatures’ thoughtful consideration of this important issue. As Nevada’s Governor I am obligated to make such decisions according to my own conscience. In cases like this, where Nevada’s interest could diverge from the interest of large states, I will stand up for Nevada.”
If the bill would have been approved, the bill would have tied Nevada to a pact of states agreeing to pledge their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact cannot take effect until enough state to join the compact to reach the 270 electoral vote threshold.
Currently 15 states including Washington DC follow this Pact and have a combined 196 electoral votes. The veto by the governor added another mark to a long list of failed attempts of Nevada to pledge at six electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. This was also attempted in the 2017 legislative session and a 2009 legislative sessions, but neither time did it make the Governors’ desk.
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