Clinton could not break the 200-year-old curse | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 14, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 05:34 PM, November 20, 2016

The Electoral College System

Clinton could not break the 200-year-old curse

Misfortune has been haunting Democratic Party's presidential candidates for the last 200 years. The latest one, Hillary Clinton, has become victim to it as she won four hundred thousand more popular votes than Donald Trump, but could not win the presidency. 

By the time all the ballots have been counted, she seems likely to be ahead by more than 2 million votes and more than 1.5 percentage points. She will have won by a wider percentage margin than not only Al Gore in 2000 but also Richard Nixon in 1968 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, writes David Leonhardt in New York Times on Thursday. 

The Atlantic in a report on Saturday said Clinton's popular-vote lead will grow, and grow, and grow: millions of mail-in and absentee ballots haven't been counted yet. They won't change anything, though.

Like her four more Democratic presidential candidates earlier faced the same fate since 1824. Before her Al Gore was the last unfortunate Democratic candidate. Gore won 5, 39,000 more votes than Republican candidate George W. Bush in 2000 presidential election, but Bush won the presidency. 

In 1876 and 1888 two more Democratic presidential candidates won more popular votes than the presidents-elect. But they had to concede defeat to Republican candidates in those elections. 

None of Republican candidates have ever had to face such a situation in the history of American democracy. All the five incidents affected only the Democratic camp. The misfortunes show how the Electoral College system has appeared to be a curse for the Democratic Party over the years. 

In the latest presidential election Clinton won the popular vote by a very large margin but lost to Trump due to the Electoral College system. 

Under the system established in the Constitution, in 1787, the winner is the candidate who wins the majority of electoral votes based on the state-by-state tallies, and that candidate is Donald Trump.

In some states the margin of popular votes between Clinton and Trump were so close prompting The Boston Globe to say that if just 53,667 people who voted for Trump had voted instead for Clinton, she and her team would be the ones transitioning to the White House.

If 5,919 Trump voters did that in Michigan, 13,629 in Wisconsin, and 34,119 in Pennsylvania, Clinton would have won each of those states by the slimmest of margins of votes, said Boston Globe.

Wins in those states says the Globe, would have instantly swung 46 electoral votes from Trump to Clinton, giving her 278 in total, above the 270 needed to win the presidency, while he would hold the other 260. 

In 1824 Andrew Jackson, a Democratic-Republican, won more electoral and popular votes than his rival. But he did not win the majority of electoral votes to become the president. He bagged 151,271 and 99 electoral votes. But 131 votes were required to get elected as the president. 

His main opponent the then Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams, obtained 113,122 popular votes and 84 seats. 

According to the constitution, the contest went to the House of Representatives to determine who would be the president.   

Under the rules of the Twelfth Amendment to the constitution, Henry Clay, who got 37 votes, was eliminated, as only the top three candidates were eligible. With Clay's support, the House decided on John Quincy Adams as president. Shortly after, Henry Clay was announced as the new secretary of state. 

Jackson supporters were furious. They claimed that their candidate, despite having received the most popular votes, had been cheated by a “corrupt bargain” between Adams and Clay. They vowed to get even in the next election. 

After the 1824 election, Jackson and his men began to form party organisations throughout the country. At first known as the “Jackson Party,” it eventually became the Democratic Party. They won the 1828 presidential election and Jackson, founder father of Democratic Party, became the president.  

In 1876 presidential election, Democratic candidate Samuel J. Tilden won two hundred thousand more votes than the Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes. Tilden won 184 electoral votes. But Hayes won the presidency with bagging 185 electoral votes. 

The same thing happened in 1888 election. And again the victim was a Democrat, Grover Cleveland who bagged nine lakh more popular votes than his rival Republican Benjamin Harrison. The Republican candidate won the presidency by winning more electoral votes than Cleveland. 


According to the USA constitutional provision, in every state except Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the most popular votes in the state receives all of the state's electoral votes. 

The number of electors in each state is the sum of its U.S. senators and its U.S. representatives. In addition, the District of Columbia has three electoral votes. A candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected president. The magic number is 270.

The founding fathers of USA were against allowing people to directly elect president as they were afraid of democracy. They called for an extra layer, Electoral College. 

James Madison worried about what he called “factions,” which he defined as groups of citizens who have a common interest in some proposal that would either violate the rights of other citizens or would harm the nation as a whole. Madison's fear has been dubbed as “the tyranny of the majority” which was that a faction could grow to encompass more than 50 percent of the population, at which point it could “sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.” 

In defense of the Electoral College system, Alexander Hamilton writes “The Federalist Papers,” said the constitution has been designed to ensure “that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” 

"The point of the Electoral College is to preserve “the sense of the people,” while at the same time ensuring that a president is chosen “by men most capable of analysing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice.”

But the outcome of the latest presidential election triggered controversy over the Electoral College system as the president-elect is Donald Trump who has been dubbed as "a danger" to democracy. He won the presidency with an ugly and negative campaign. His election sparked worldwide outcries. 

Protesters demonstrating against the election of Donald Trump gathered in several US cities for a third night on Friday, hours after the president-elect praised their "passion". Thousands took to the streets in Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon, voicing anger at Trump's inflammatory and often deeply controversial campaign rhetoric about immigrants, Muslims and women.

Electoral experts have been calling for change of the electoral vote system in the wake of the prevailing situation. Even many of the protestors are urging electors, who will meet in their respective states on December 19 to cast their vote for Trump, not to elect Trump as the president. How things will take shape in the coming days still remainss uncertain. 

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

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