Although we probably won’t know who the winner of this election is until late tonight (as the polls are still indicating a very tight race), we can watch as the electoral votes add up, which, of course, is how the president is actually elected. The debate over a popular vote vs an electoral vote has been going on for more than 200 years.
The electoral college was put in place by the framers of our Constitution who decided that the states should do the voting, not the people. At that time, the United States was simply a union of individual states that had come together to resolve the many issues of establishing a democracy, but the thought of being a single nation was not yet in the consciousness of many. Eventually, a compromise was struck so that voting for president would take place state by state, so that each one could have its say. Each state was given a number of electoral votes equal to the combined total number of senators and members of the house of representatives it had, usually giving the most populous states the largest number of electorates. The popular vote–your vote–is what guides the electoral college to cast its votes. We can still see this separate state idea being played out today when we hear of red states, blue states and, of course, “swing states,” those in which candidates campaign so heavily because swing states can tip the balance of the electoral college vote.
Do you know when the last time a president was elected that did not have the majority of the popular vote? It was in the year 2000 when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore, who had a very narrow lead in the popular vote, but lost the electoral vote 271 to 266.
Who will come out ahead in 2012? We’ll hopefully know that tomorrow!