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Clinton's Popular-Vote Lead Is Now Over 2 Million, But Don't Expect Big Changes

Hillary Clinton leaves after speaking at the Children's Defense Fund Beat the Odds Celebration at the Newseum in Washington on Nov. 16. It was her first speech since losing the presidential election.
Yuri Gripas
AFP/Getty Images
Hillary Clinton leaves after speaking at the Children's Defense Fund Beat the Odds Celebration at the Newseum in Washington on Nov. 16. It was her first speech since losing the presidential election.

Michigan moved one step closer to certifying its statewide presidential election results Friday. Counties there finished canvassing and making their results official, and while Hillary Clinton picked up a few thousand votes, President-elect Donald Trump is still more than 10,000 votes ahead. That's a tiny fraction of the statewide vote, the closest in the state's presidential history.

The state will officially certify Trump the winner Monday. That will give him well over 300 electoral votes, a veritable electoral landslide.

And yet, with vote continuing to be counted in California, Clinton has now expanded her popular-vote lead to more than 2 million (64.4 million to 62.3 million), the widest gap in raw vote in the history of the handful of times when the popular vote went the opposite direction as the Electoral College.


The only time it happened outside the 1800s was in 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote by about 500,000 votes over George W. Bush, but lost a contested race that came down to 537 votes in Florida.

Democrats have now won six of the last seven presidential popular votes but only won the presidency in four of those elections.

The discrepancy this year has led to a broader conversation about two things:

1. The possibility of the electors changing their votes to go with the popular vote on Dec. 19 when they officially gather to file their votes. The election is technically not decided until the electors vote and then their votes are counted by Congress days after the next session begins in the new year.

2. Eliminating the Electoral College altogether.


Both likely have zero chance of happening.

Here's why:

1. The electors are mostly partisans, activists selected by state parties and assigned to the winning candidate. In other words, these aren't independent folks moved by "conscience," they are there to lock in the vote for the person who won. Yes, there have been so-called "faithless electors," and there very well may be again. But there wouldn't likely be close to enough to change the outcome in key states.

2. The Electoral College is enshrined in the Constitution. To get rid of it, two-thirds of Congress would have to pass an amendment to the Constitution and states would have to ratify it, as NPR's Meg Anderson noted recently:

"Abolishing the Electoral College would require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which would need a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate, and then it would have to be ratified by 38 states."

Retiring Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California proposed doing just this with new legislation, but it is unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Congress or for that matter in majority GOP-controlled legislatures and governorships.

In part, this happened because of Democratic sorting — more Democrats live in cities and the coasts and are not spread out in the rest of the country. But the likelihood of the country moving toward pure one person, one vote any time soon is almost nil.

What's more, there's no telling exactly what the outcome would have been in this election if it were based purely on the popular vote. The candidates would campaign very differently if that were the case, ignoring less populated traditional battleground states and focusing more on larger metropolitan areas — even in places that are currently not "swing states," like Texas, New York and California.

As NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben found (in a story posting Saturday morning):

"Of 15 states that NPR labeled as battlegrounds or leaning states in its final battleground map, 12 had turnout rates above the national rate — 58.4 percent of the voting-eligible population."

All this means that for Clinton — who also ironically accumulated more votes than Barack Obama in her 2008 primary loss — this will ultimately simply go down in American political history as one very big asterisk.

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