Infinite Wisdom of Founding Fathers: Electoral College vs Popular Vote Numbers-Truth! & Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
A commentary describes the “infinite wisdom” of the founding fathers in establishing the electoral college. It references data from the 2016 election about the electoral college vs popular vote numbers.
The commentary about the infinite wisdom of the founding fathers makes claims about the 2016 election and the electoral college that are true, false and disputed.
It’s not clear where the commentary originated. But it expresses some of the same electoral college vs. the popular vote ideas that circulated in November 2016.
It uses election data that indicates Hillary Clinton won the vast majority of her support in urban, densely populated areas. Donald Trump, the data shows, won large geographical areas with fewer voters. The central idea is that the 2016 election summarizes the “infinite wisdom” of the founding fathers in establishing the electoral college process.
We’ll take a look at specific claims made about election data in the commentary. We’ll also provide a brief overview of the electoral college, and why it was established.
Electoral College vs Popular Vote Numbers in 2016 General Election
It’s true that Donald Trump won 3,084 of 3,141 counties in the 2016 general election. It’s important to note, however, that many of those counties are sparsely populated. The same number of ballots were cast in 163 counties (123 of which Clinton won) as were cast in the remaining 2,939 counties, we previously reported.
And the commentary’s claim that New York City alone allowed Clinton to win the popular vote is false. Trump won 46 of New York State’s 62 counties, as the commentary claims. And it’s true that Clinton won four of the five counties that encompass New York City. With about 2.32 million votes cast for Clinton in those five counties, New York City was undoubtedly instrumental in Clinton winning the popular vote.
The first problem, however, is that Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes — not 1.5 million. Clinton earned about 2.3 million overall votes in New York City, but her margin of victory was about 1.8 million when Trump’s votes are factored in. So, vote totals from New York City alone do not account for Clinton’s overall margin of victory, as the commentary claims.
And the claim that New York City alone decided the election without the electoral college is misleading. More than 136 million total votes were cast in the 2016 election. While New York City’s 2.3 million overall votes for Clinton played a role — those votes accounted for about 1.6 percent of total ballots cast. Clearly, New York City did not alone decide the popular vote.
Infinite Wisdom of Founding Fathers? The Electoral College in History
And the commentary’s central claim about the “infinite wisdom” of the founding fathers in establishing the electoral college is disputed.
The electoral college was added to the U.S. Constitution as a compromise. Some wanted Congress to elect the president. Others wanted popular vote to determine the outcome. The result was the electoral college, according to the National Archives.
There are 538 votes in the electoral college. Each state gets as many electors as they have members of Congress (House and Senate). Electors are chosen at the state level, and state laws vary on the selection process. In order to win a presidential election, 270 electoral votes are required.
But why was the electoral college process established in the first place? Some argue (like this commentary) that it was to balance interests of large urban areas and lower-density rural areas. Others argue that the Founding Fathers didn’t trust the public to elect a candidate. After all, it was difficult for ordinary citizens to gather adequate information about candidates in the 1700s.
And some note that the current electoral college system was implemented by the 12th Amendment — not by the original Constitution. The 1801 contest between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams revealed glitches in the original elections system. Republican voters weren’t able to stipulate that they wanted to vote for Jefferson for president and Aaron Burr for vice president, Time reports:
Enter the 12th Amendment, which allowed each party to designate one candidate for president and a separate candidate for vice president. The amendment’s modifications of the electoral process transformed the Framers’ framework, enabling future presidential elections to be openly populist and partisan affairs featuring two competing tickets. It is the 12th Amendment’s Electoral College system, not the Philadelphia Framers’, that remains in place today. If the general citizenry’s lack of knowledge had been the real reason for the Electoral College, this problem was largely solved by 1800. So why wasn’t the entire Electoral College contraption scrapped at that point?
So, like most matters of history, the logic behind the current electoral process — and even its origins — are disputed.