It is high time to eliminate the electoral college. However, we need Congress to start the process to get rid of the system. Since they cannot agree on anything, this seems unlikely.
A much easier and more likely solution is to tweak the electoral college. The best method would see the electoral college in each state much like Maine and Nebraska. In those two states, 2 electors go to the overall winner of the state. The remaining electors go to who wins each congressional district. In a perfect world this would be the ideal system. With the current system run amuck with gerrymandering however, this is not plausible.
The other method would be to base each states electors off of how each state voted proportionally. If Candidate A won 55% of the vote they would receive roughly 55% of the electors in the state. In other words, the electoral college could now be tied to the popular vote.
Would a Proportional Electoral College Work?
All we can do is look at history. There have been five elections in our history where the person winning the popular vote did not win the electoral college. We are all familiar with the last two, 2016 and 2000. The other three were 1888, 1876, and 1824. The 1824 election was historic for other reasons; it was the first election that actually recorded the popular vote and it was the only election where a candidate did not get the necessary electors to win the election and the House of Representatives decided the outcome.
I looked at all five elections and compiled the numbers to see what difference, if any, would occur if the electors were decided by proportion rather than winner take all. In 4 of the 5 elections the outcome would have been different. In the election of 1824 John Quincy Adams (though losing the popular vote) actually received more electors proportionally. I will discuss that shortly.
Election of 1824
There were four primary candidates for president in 1824; John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford, and Henry Clay. All four candidates belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party as the First Party System was ending. The Federalist Party was only active in Delaware. By 1828 the Democratic-Republican Party had dropped the Republican portion of the name.
Of the 24 states at the time, six states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, South Carolina, and Vermont) still did not hold a popular vote. There were a total of 261 electoral votes, of which a candidate needed to win 131 to become president.
None of the four candidates won enough delegates. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote with 151,271 (41.4%) votes but could only secure 99 delegates. John Quincy Adams came in a relatively distant second place with 113,122 (30.9%) votes and 84 electoral delegates.
Looking at this race was difficult because of the six states that did not hold a popular vote and there were another six states where candidates did not have any ballots.
Working with what I could the results of looking at proportionality actually favored Adams as he ended up with 100 electoral votes to Jackson’s 96.
The other four elections are a lot more cut and dry
Election of 1876
In 1876, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes faced off against Democratic Samuel S. Tilden. Just a note of ancestry nerdery (yes, made up word) Tilden’s running mate was Thomas A. Hendricks, a distant relative.
In this election there were 369 total delegates and in order to win the presidency a candidate would need to secure 185 electoral votes.
Tilden won the popular vote with 4,288,546 (50.9%) votes to Hayes’ 4,034,311 (47.9%) votes, however Hayes carried the electoral college 185-184. Looking at the electoral college proportionally Tilden would have won the election by the identical delegates 185-184.
Election of 1888
Republican Benjamin Harrison and Democratic Grover Cleveland faced off in the election of 1888. This was Cleveland’s re-election bid. After losing the election Cleveland would go on to win a second term in 1892.
There were 401 total delegates up for grabs in this election, in which the winning candidate needed to secure 201 delegates. It was a close election decided by less than one percentage point.
Cleveland won the popular vote with 5,534,488 (48.6%) votes to Harrison’s 5,443,892 (47.8%) votes. Harrison won the electoral college 233-168. Since there were more electoral votes available there is actually a greater difference when looking at the vote proportionally than in 1876. In that method Cleveland would have won the electoral college 209-192.
Election of 2000
There were a lot of issues with the 2000 election but for the purpose of this article we will look at in just the vacuum of electoral votes. This election pitted Republican George W. Bush against Democrat Al Gore.
In this election there were 538 total electoral votes in which the winner of the election would need to secure 270 votes.
Gore won the popular election with 50,999,897 (48.4%) votes to Bush’s 50,456,002 (47.9%) votes. Despite losing the popular vote, Bush won the electoral college 271-266. Similar to the election of 1876 if we look at it proportionally Gore would have won the electoral college identical to Bush 271-266.
Election of 2016
Now we look at the most recent election that occurred in November between Republican Donald Trump and Democratic Hillary Clinton.
Just like in 2000 there were 538 total electoral votes that the winning candidate needed to win 270.
Clinton won the popular election with 65,845,063 (48%) votes to Trump’s 62,980,160 (45.9%) votes. Most noteworthy is that Trump won the electoral college 304-227. Even though he won the election he lost the popular vote by more than any winning candidate in history. Due to faithless electors Colin Powell won three electoral votes, John Kasich won one, Ron Paul won one, Bernie Sanders won one, and Faith Spotted Eagle won one.
Looking at the election proportionally Clinton would have won the electoral college 274-263.
Oddly enough Democrats were the victims of the electoral college in the four elections where an outright winner was decided. One thing that I would eliminate in a proportional electoral college would be faithless electors. Because in the new system there is no need as the winner take all is eliminated, so that all candidates are getting fair representation.