Democrat Hillary Clinton outpolled Republican Donald Trump by more than 2.8 million votes in November's election -- about 2.1 percent. But it's Trump who will be sworn in as president on Jan. 20.
That's because Trump won states with 306 electoral votes, to Clinton's 232.
This marks the fifth time in American history, that the popular vote winner didn't win the presidency. (The other four are below.)
How does this happen?
It's a vestige of a system set up in 1787 by the writers of the U.S.
Constitution, before communication tools that today we take for granted: the telegraph, telephone, radio, television, rapid transportation, and certainly the internet.
In an era when few voters could be expected to know leading figures for the presidency, the system was set up for a state&'s voters to pick wise elites – electors – to cast votes for their state in the Electoral College.
But by the early 1800s, electors were voting as a block for the presidential candidate who had carried their state.
The college has one elector for each of the state's members of the U.S.
House of Representatives, and of the Senate.
The process was to prevent the most populous states or regions dominating those without as many people. By states having electors for each of their two senators, as well as their House members, even the least populous states would have three electoral votes.
That does create some imbalance of the worth of each person's vote.
Nate Cohn of The New York Times notes that the least populous state, Wyoming, has one sixty-sixth of the population of California, the most populous state, but one-eighteenth of California's share of electoral votes.
(Six other states have just three electoral votes: Alaska, Delaware, District of Columbia, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Vermont. The District of Columbia also has three.)
All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – follow a "winner-take- all" approach, and award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state.
The states with the most clout are the "swing"; or "battleground" states, most evenly balanced between the Republican and Democratic Parties, and capable of shifting their party preference from one election to the next.
They get the most attention from the candidates, and thus the most spending in their state on media buys, travel revenues, and so on. Reliably Red states like Texas, or Blue states like California and New York, get much less attention, because money and candidate time there won't affect the electoral vote.
Many observers agree with Donald Trump's tweet in November 2012: "The electoral college is a disaster for democracy."
It could be abolished by constitutional amendment. But that would require the difficult process of a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, and then approval by three-fourths of the 50 states (38).
Another proposal is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that would award all of a state's electoral votes to the national popular vote winner.
So far, 10 states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington), and the District of Columbia, with 165 electoral votes, have agreed to support the proposal. It would go into effect when states have committed enough electors – 270 of 538 – to win the electoral college.
A question with that proposal is what happens with the states that already bind their electors to the state's popular vote winner. Texas isn't one of them – so far.
Efforts will continue to drop the electoral college. Whether any will succeed remains to be seen.
# # #
Four Previous Presidents Lost The Popular Vote. . . .
1824: John Quincy Adams became president without winning the popular vote, or the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson got about 38,000 more votes, and led Adams in the electoral college 99 to 84.
But Jackson was short of the 131 electoral votes to reach a majority.
So the election went to the U.S. House of Representatives, which picked Adams.
1876: Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College (by one vote), but lost the popular vote by about 250,000 votes to Samuel J. Tilden.
1888: Benjamin Harrison won the Electoral College with 233 votes to 168 for Grover Cleveland. But Cleveland led the popular vote by more than 90,000 votes.
2000: George W. Bush was declared the winner of the Electoral College with 271 votes to Al Gore's 266, after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to uphold Bush's 537-vote margin in hotly contested Florida.
But Gore won the national popular vote by a margin of about 540,000.
As the late Texas Land Commissioner Bob Armstrong said of Gore, "He won it, but he didn't get it."
Now Clinton joins that group.