Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Glenn Tucker | America’s winner can be a loser

Published:Thursday | November 19, 2020 | 12:08 AM
Glenn Tucker
Glenn Tucker
President-elect Joe Biden.
President-elect Joe Biden.

President Donald Trump is the 45th president of the United States. He is the fifth of that group who lost the popular vote but won the presidency.

First, there was John Quincy Adams in 1824. Next there was Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. Benjamin Harrison followed in 1888. These were usually corrupt, cantankerous affairs which left some nursing bruised egos.

Things went fairly well for another 112 years, then Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate, former Vice-President Al Gore, contested the 2000 elections. The winner in Florida would decide the overall winner. Florida Republican Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, announced that Bush had won by 537 votes. Gore disagreed and sued. The Florida Supreme Court declared Gore the winner, but the US Supreme Court – in a five-to-four decision – overturned that decision, ordered an end to counting and declared Bush the winner. So although Gore won the popular vote by 500,000, he lost the race for the presidency.

In 2016, Donald Trump, running on a Republican ticket, went up against Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. The final results of the popular vote showed Trump gaining 62,984,828 votes, or 46.1 per cent of the popular votes. Clinton gained 65,853,514 votes, or 48.2 per cent of the popular votes. Again, the person who won the popular vote – by a whopping 2.8 million in this case – lost the race.

How, one might ask, could this be possible? The short answer is the Electoral College, an institution, comprising ‘electoral intermediaries’ most Americans either do not understand or even know about. A Gallop Poll as far back as 1948 revealed that a majority of Americans do not like or want this system. But it has prevailed, partly because the framers made it difficult to have it changed.

In 1787, the Founding Fathers met to sort out a thorny issue – how to safely elect a president. Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers:

“It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analysing qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favourable to the deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations. It was also peculiarly desirable to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder. This evil was not least to be dreaded in the election of a magistrate, who was to have so important an agency in the administration of the government as the President of the United States. But the precautions which have been so happily concerted in the system under consideration, promise an effectual security against this mischief.”

If one should be so courageous as to translate the foregoing into English, these men were concerned that some charismatic charlatan, who lacked the qualities of leadership, could manipulate the citizenry and become president. Such a person could also get assistance from foreign actors with nefarious agendas. There was also the strong possibility that smaller states would not be properly represented. To address these potential problems, an Electoral College was proposed and eventually agreed on. The constitution assigns each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of the state’s Senate and House of Representatives delegations; since southern states would have an advantage with this system because of their large slave population, slaves were counted as 3/5th of a human. At present, the number of electors per state ranges from three (District of Columbia) to 55 (California) for a total of 538. To be elected president of the United States, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes. The ideal situation for the framers would be a selection process similar to the way the Pope was chosen by a select group of cardinals.

So has this arrangement worked out as the framers wished? Well, in the run-up to the 2016 elections, observers frequently stated that Hillary Clinton was the most qualified person ever to seek the presidency. Her opponent has demonstrated that he is a man of shallow intellect, with no redeeming qualities, a racist, bereft of any spiritual moorings. The response one of his supporters gave to an interviewer aptly describes the mentality of his followers and many tasked with the responsibility of choosing a president; “I know he is a liar, but I trust him.” And when an 82-year-old grandmother, who supports Trump, was asked about Trump’s separation of children from their mothers, her response was, “Well the parents should never have taken their children.” It has also been established by US intelligence that America’s greatest adversary, Russia, played a role in getting him elected largely because they found him to be a ‘useful idiot’.

Columnist George Will, however, supports the Electoral College. He had this to say:

“John F. Kennedy’s popular vote margin over Richard M. Nixon was just 118,574. If all 68,838,219 popular votes had been poured into a single national bucket, there would have been powerful incentives to challenge the results in many of the nation’s 170,000 precincts.”

Much of the air time over the past weeks was centred around who will become the next president. This despite the fact that Joe Biden has been leading consistently in all the reputable polls for the past several months.

November 3 has come and gone. Joe Biden has, so far, gained well over five million votes more than Trump and is president-elect. But America was nervous up to the last minute. That is because – even if he wins the majority of votes by millions – the Electoral College could declare him a loser. Is this really worth it? Is it even practical?

Glenn Tucker, BSc, MBA, is a former president of the Mico Historical Society. Email: