While President Trump fumes over his defeat and flings false charges of a “rigged” election, the real flaw in our presidential elections gets off scot-free: the Electoral College.
The 2020 election showed, again, how presidential campaigns are distorted by the absurd, antiquated and downright dangerous system that the Founding Fathers bequeathed to us nearly a quarter of a millennium ago.
Joe Biden won a huge margin in the national popular vote. He got 80.1 million votes, the most ever, to Trump’s 73.9 million votes. That’s a margin of 6.2 million, also the most ever.
Biden also won big in the Electoral College – the count that counts: 306 to Trump’s 232. That is exactly the same electoral-vote margin that Trump won in 2016.
How big a win is that? Well, Trump called his a “landslide” victory. At a July 2018 rally in Great Falls, Montana, Trump said Democrats “actually got their ass kicked” in 2016. “306 to 223, that’s a pretty good shellacking.”
But a close look at the numbers shows how much the Electoral College distorts election results.
Trump this year narrowly lost three key states – Arizona, Georgia and Wisconsin – by a combined total of 44,000 votes. Had he won all three, he and Biden would be tied, with 269 electoral votes each. The House would pick the President; each state’s delegation would have one vote. Trump almost certainly would win.
Had Trump won, we would have a President who lost the popular vote for the third time since 2000, The other two were George W. Bush in 2000 and, of course, Trump in 2016.
The Electoral College distortion this year would have been even greater than in 2016. Then, Trump’s combined margin in the decisive states was 77,744 out of 136.7 million votes. Hillary Clinton’s popular-vote margin was 2.9 million, far less than Biden’s 6.2 million this year.
In 2016, 77,744 votes negated 2.9 million. This year, 44,000 would have negated 6.2 million.
Here’s another way to look at the Electoral College distortion. The accompanying map (compiled by the group National Popular Vote) shows how many general-election campaign events were held this year in each state.
All 212 events were held in just 17 states. Twelve states received 96% (204) of the events.
That means 33 states didn’t have a single general-election campaign event. They had no TV ads, no real campaign activity, no canvassing and no voter-turnout operations.
North Carolina got plenty of attention. We had 25 of the 212 events. We had wall-to-wall TV ads. We had mailboxes stuffed with political mail. We had phone calls, emails and texts.
Some of us might gladly share that bounty with folks in other states.
Totally ignored were some of the biggest states: California (55 Electoral Votes), New York (29) and Illinois (20). All three are Democratic states. Biden’s margin in California alone was 5 million, more than 80% of his national margin.
Also ignored were Republican states in the Deep South, Midwest and Rockies.
Much has been made of rural voters this year. But little attention was paid to the 10 states with the highest percentage of rural residents: Maine, Vermont, West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Arkansas, South Dakota, Kentucky, Alabama and North Dakota.
All their votes, in effect, didn’t matter.
Of course, it’s hard to convince Republicans that electing Presidents by a national popular vote is preferable to the Electoral College. Democrats have won the popular vote in seven of the eight presidential elections since 1992. The only GOP winner was Bush over John Kerry in 2004.
Bush won the popular vote by 62 million to 59 million, or 50.7% to 48.3%, and won the Electoral College 286-251. But Kerry’s campaign considered contesting the count in Ohio. If they had successfully overturned Ohio’s 20 electoral votes, Kerry would have been President and North Carolina’s John Edwards Vice President – despite losing the popular vote.
The shoe most decidedly would have been on the other foot.
Do Republicans today really want to admit they can’t win the votes of a majority of Americans? Didn’t Ronald Reagan win two landslide elections in 1980 and 1984? Didn’t George H.W. Bush give Michael Dukakis a shellacking in 1988?
Or do Republicans want to rely every four years on scratching out a narrow win in a few battleground states?
The real threat to America isn’t the fantasy of a vast, diabolical conspiracy of Democratic and Republican election officials magically conjuring up millions of votes for Joe Biden – apparently, a conspiracy so vast and diabolical there’s no evidence of it whatsoever.
The real threat is the Electoral College.
Whatever our party, we should ponder two questions.
First, do we want to risk the political crisis that would ensue if a presidential election was thrown into the United States House of Representatives? That’s a prospect fraught with even more bitterness and polarization than we have now.
Second, who should pick the President? A tiny sliver of voters in a handful of states? Or 154 million Americans, plus tens of millions more who might vote if the election was fought in all 50 states and if they believed their votes mattered?
You decide for yourself.