Growing up, most of us were taught in Social Studies class that technically the winner of the Presidential election wins the Electoral College and not the popular vote, but between 1888 and 2000, it was largely a trivial matter. Then George W. Bush won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote. Since then, the process is in the news frequently, and America is constantly reminded of the Red State/Blue State divide. It turns out this system is even crazier than you’d think.
Electoral votes are determined by adding a state’s number of House of Representatives seats plus their two senators. There are 435 members of the house, plus 100 Senators for a total of 535. However, despite having no Senators or seats in the House of Representatives, the District of Columbia also has 3 electoral votes so the total number of electors is 538. This is just the start of it. Read on to learn 25 Crazy Facts About The Electoral College That You Probably Didn’t Know.
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The Electoral College Beginnings
The Electoral College was originally set up as it was deemed impractical for Presidential candidates to campaign in each state given transportation limits of the time. It was determined to be better to have a small handful of representatives “in the loop” making the decision. In 1804, the decision was made to let eligible voters decide on their own candidate, and the winner of the state would have electors pledged to that candidate. The U.S. is currently the only nation in the world which uses this system for its top executive position.
Electors are essentially free agents and can cast their vote for whomever they choose. Some states have laws mandating that a pledged elector vote for the winner of the state. However, there is virtually no consequence to an elector who goes against their state’s choice. 157 times electors have cast a vote differently from what they’re pledged, most recently in 2000 when an elector from the District of Columbia refused to cast her vote in protest over the controversy of the election. As a result the final vote was 271-266 instead of 271-267.
Electoral vs. National Popular Vote
Four times a President has won the Electoral vote while losing the National popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000. Three of those were very close popular votes, but John Quincy Adams lost by over 10%.
270 to Win
There have been 57 Presidential elections. There has never been a unanimous winner. 38 times only two candidates won electors. Under the current setup, it takes 270 electors to win the election if only two candidates win electors. However, since 538 is an even number, a 269-269 tie is possible, and there are several combinations which can make that happen. If that were to happen, the House of Representatives would choose the President, and the Senate would choose the Vice President.
Lopsided Electoral Votes
Other than George Washington’s two unanimous wins, the most lopsided Electoral Vote in history was 1936 when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Alf Landon 523-8. There were 48 states at the time, and the District of Columbia could not vote. Landon won only two; Vermont and Maine. The popular vote was 61% to 37%.