How to Lose an Election with a Majority Vote

Recently, all the news have been about the US election. “I hope people get out there and vote for Clinton” I thought in the run up to the big day. “I hope people listen to all the media types explaining how damaging Donald Trump will be for their country”. And they did. Apparently, after all the votes are verified,  it could be that around 1.5 million more people went out and voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump.

But Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. 

How the heck does that work? 

“Around 1.5 million more people went out and voted for Hillary Clinton than voted for Donald Trump.”

My partner (who understands this stuff a bit better than me – more attention to detail) explained it to me really well, but the more I know, the less democratic the whole thing seems. 

So Hillary Clinton won something called the popular vote. This means that out of all the votes that were cast, she got a higher number. Now, granted because America is so big it was only a slightly higher percentage than Trump, but still more people in the US wanted Clinton as president than Trump. 

But the presidency is actually decided by something called the electoral college. What this means is there are a certain number of officials who cast the vote on behalf of their state, and each state has a set number of points based on how many people live there. So big states get more points than little states, so that they are correctly represented. Each state is “called” for a particular party, based on the percentage of votes that party gets, and no matter how close, the party that gets the highest percentage gets the points for that state. The first candidate to 270 points wins. 

So, for ease, let’s say we have 3 states, all the same size, and 1000 people live in each one. In state A 100% vote for the blue party, so they have 1000 votes and the 10 points the state has allocated to it. 


In State B and State C, 51% vote for the red party and 49% vote for the blue party. The red party will get each state’s 10 points (20 points out of the possible 30) having got 1020 votes in total, whereas the blue party will only have 10 points out of the 30 when they got 1980 votes. Nearly twice as many people want the blue candidate but the red candidate gets twice as many points.



The next thing is, the electoral college system assigns points based on the number of people who live in each state from the census, but less people might vote. So, let’s say you have a circumstance where (again in a state of 1000 people with 10 points to give) 50% of people think “my vote won’t count!” and they stay at home. Of the 500 who then go out, 200 vote for the red party, 190 vote for the blue party, 100 people vote for a Green Party, and 10 write in votes for Batman. In that state, 20% of people voted for the red party, and more people who voted went against the red party than for them, yet that state’s 10 points will go to the red party. Again, it doesn’t quite seem fair…


Finally, there’s those actual electoral college officials. So, the idea is that they vote for the person with the highest percentage in their area, but they don’t actually HAVE to. If they want, they can vote for another candidate, or they can abstain from voting all together. What this means, is that potentially neither candidate could get the required 270 points or the electoral college could vote against what their state tells them to do. It’s all very confusing. 

“The reason the system works like this is because if it didn’t the “elites” like me who live in big states (I didn’t bother to tell him I was British) would always win and “real people” like him wouldn’t have a say.”

Now, a very nice man on Facebook explained to me why the system works like this (after he called me a dumb bitch and a libtard). The reason the system works like this is because if it didn’t the “elites” like me who live in big states (I didn’t bother to tell him I was British) would always win and “real people” like him wouldn’t have a say. I was sceptical, as I still thought it should just be, on a country-wide scale that the candidate with the most votes should win. So I googled it and found out something very interesting. The guy was quite right, it was about making sure the smaller states still had a say, but it was also to do with slavery. You see, the South would always have been overpowered by the North due to population, but they could claim their population was bigger due to the slaves. So let’s say in our state of 1000, 500 were slaves, that would leave 500 eligible to vote, but instead of getting the points for 500 people, they could get the points for 1000. The academic who was talking about this explained that now the system is a bit outdated, but because it’s so embedded in the constitution, it would be very difficult to change. 

I hope this helps a little, especially for people like me who first of all were downhearted about how the majority of people could have voted for Trump (they didn’t) and were confused how someone could get over a million more votes than the other candidate and still lose.

But, you know, democracy… right? 

Leave a Reply