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%.
Close Electoral Margins
The 2000 election was the closest Electoral margin ever with George W. Bush defeating Al Gore 271-266. It would’ve been 267 for Gore, but one previously mentioned elector refused to cast their vote. Most notably Bush won Florida by a mere 538 votes and one precinct had an unusual butterfly ballot where it’s believed many voters inadvertently voted for third party candidate Pat Buchanan instead of Gore. Of course, Gore also lost his home state of Tennessee, which had he won would’ve rendered it all a moot point.
Third Party Candidate
The last time a third party candidate won a state was 1968 when George Wallace won 5 states and earned 46 electors. However, in 1988 one elector from West Virginia cast their vote for Lloyd Bentsen (The Democratic Vice Presidential nominee and man who told Dan Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy.”) instead of Michael Dukakis who won the state.
Number of Electoral Votes
Since each state has exactly two senators and a minimum of one seat in the House of Representatives, the minimum number of electors for a state is 3. Currently seven states only have three electoral votes: Wyoming, Alaska, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Delaware. Despite having no Senators or seats in the House of Representatives, the District of Columbia also has 3 electoral votes. No President has ever called one of those states home.
Smallest State to be Home of a President
In terms of percent of the Electorate and percent of the National population, Arkansas became the smallest state to be the home of a President when Bill Clinton won in 1992 and 1996. At that time, the state had six Electoral votes, or approximately 1% of the total. Also at that time, Arkansas constituted less than 1% of the national population.
The Eleven States
In 2016, an election can be won by winning only 11 states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Jersey. Those eleven states constitute 50% of the electoral votes, but 57% of the total U.S. population. 26 Presidents have called one of those states home.
Theoretically, a candidate could win the Electoral vote and the Presidency, but lose the popular vote 79%-21%.
Florida is currently the highest ranked state by population (3rd) to have never had a President call it their home state. There has never been a President from North Carolina, either.
Candidates from the Same State
Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump both call New York their home state. This is the first time since 1920 both major party candidates are from the same state. In that year, Warren Harding of Ohio defeated James Cox of Ohio by the largest margin in popular vote history, 60% to 34%. However, the electoral vote was 404-127 as Cox won 11 states.
Speaking of Ohio, in recent elections you may have heard about how important it is for a candidate to win the state. This is not a recent phenomenon. The demographics of Ohio are very proportionate to that of the entire nation, and it’s where the Northeast, Midwest, and Appalachia all converge. Ohio has voted for the winning candidate in every election since 1964 and has been home to six Presidents. No Republican has ever won without winning this state.
California is currently the largest state with a population of approximately 39 million. This is roughly 12% of the total U.S population of about 320 million. California has 55 electors, which is approximately 10% of the electoral votes. Each elector represents around 693,000 Californians.
Wyoming is currently the smallest state with a population of approximately 583,000, which is about .02% of the U.S. population. Wyoming has 3 electors or roughly .01% of the electoral votes. Each elector represents approximately 194,000 Wyomingites.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia is the only “state” that has voted for one party (Democrat) in each election since they were eligible (1964).
Losing Home State
Only three candidates have ever won the election without winning their home state. Richard Nixon lost New York in 1968. He owned property in New York and declared himself to be a New York resident right before the election. However he was born and raised in California and had served California in every other previously elected position. He also ran as a Californian when he was reelected in 1972. Woodrow Wilson lost New Jersey in 1916. He had been born and raised in Virginia, but had served as New Jersey Governor as well. James Polk lost his home state of Tennessee in 1844.
Two states, Nebraska and Maine, break up their electors by congressional district. The winner of the district gets one elector. The winner of the majority of the state receives the two other votes. Only once has a state seen a candidate win a congressional district without winning the majority of the state. Obama won Nebraska district 2 in 2008 and received one of the state’s five votes.
District of Columbia
The District of Columbia currently has the longest streak of voting for the same party. They have voted for the Democratic candidate in every election since 1964, or thirteen in a row.
Nine states: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming have voted for the Republican Candidate in every election since 1968, or twelve times in a row.
Vermont has the record for most consecutive times voting for the same party. From 1856 to 1960 they voted Republican in all 27 elections. Currently they have voted for the Democrat six straight times since 1988.
New Mexico is the state which has voted for the winning candidate most frequently. Since it became a state in 1912, it has voted for the winner 19 of 21 times. In 1976, it voted for Gerald Ford and for Al Gore in 2000. However, both were very close elections nationally, and the margin in the state was very slim.
Candidates from the South
There have been fourteen elections since the U.S. expanded to fifty states. Seven of those have been won by a candidate from the South (Georgia, Arkansas, or Texas).
There has never been a President from a state primarily in the Mountain Time Zone. In fact, California is the only western state to have ever been home to a President (Hoover, Nixon, and Reagan).
Only 18 of the 50 states plus DC have ever been home to a President. New York has the most with eight, Ohio is next with six, Virginia is third with five, and Massachusetts fourth with four. Quick math will show you that’s 23 of the 44 Presidents, or more than half from just four states. Both major party candidates in the 2016 Election are from New York, so that number is likely to increase.
Clint Carter has taught Special Education in public schools for the past 22 years. He also referees lacrosse, hockey, soccer, and basketball from youth to professional level. In his spare time he enjoys sports, reading, movies, and trivia. You can follow him on Twitter @indylaxassigner.