How the United States Chooses a President Still Baffling to Some. Just Ask Al Gore and Hillary Clinton.

Al Gore


Losing the election probably still causes great anguish to Hillary Clinton and Al Gore.

The Democratic Party presidential nominees gained way more votes than their Republican opponents in their respective races. But Donald Trump became president instead of Clinton, and George W. Bush kept Al Gore out of the White House 16 years earlier.

This happened despite Clinton getting close to 3 million more votes than Trump in 2016 and Gore topping Bush by more than a half million in 2000.

Workings of the Electoral College

Under the U.S. system, it is not the overall popular vote that counts but which candidate earns the most votes in the all-powerful Electoral College.

When an American citizen votes for a candidate for president, they are voting for that candidate's preferred electors.

Each state has the same number of electors as congressional members, one for each member in the House of Representatives plus two senators.

Most states have a winner-take-all system, giving all electors to the presidential candidate who wins the state's popular vote. However, Maine and Nebraska have a variation of “proportional representation.”

There are 538 electors, with 270 needed to win the presidency.

The electors meet in January after the presidential popular vote to cast their own.

Trump got 304 electoral votes to Clinton’s 227. Bush had just enough electoral votes (271) to beat Gore (266) in 2020. The vote came down to the counting in Florida, whose 25 electoral votes went to Bush, even though he received only 537 votes out of almost 6 million cast (0.009%) more than Gore.

 “On five occasions, including in two of the last six elections, candidates have won the Electoral College, and thus the presidency, despite losing the nationwide popular vote,” the Brennan Center for Justice points out.

Americans Seek Change in Presidential Election Rules

This does not sit well with many Americans, and numerous calls have been made for the overall popular vote to determine the winner. 

For that to happen, a constitutional amendment would have to be passed, meaning first, a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate must approve it, or a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures must do so. Then, the proposed amendment to the Constitution becomes law as soon as it is ratified by three-fourths of the states (38 of 50 States).

Smaller states would naturally lose some clout if the U.S. president were chosen solely by the popular vote.

Today, more than 25 percent of the U.S. populace resides in 3 states – California, Texas, and Florida.

“The Electoral College prevents presidential candidates from winning an election by focusing solely on high-population urban centers and dense media markets, forcing them to seek the support of a larger cross-section of the American electorate,” says the Heritage Foundation a conservative-leaning think tank.”

That argument does not sit well with the majority of Americans.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled in a Pew Research Center Survey released in September said the electoral college system should be abolished and the overall popular vote winner should be president.

With the benefit of hindsight, Gore and Clinton would likely agree.

Author: Richard Pretorius