Hillary Clinton is now more than 2.5 million votes ahead of Donald Trump.
It’s three weeks after the US election, but we’re only just getting a final tally (and it’s not set in stone yet) as some of the ballots took a long time to be counted.
This is the current situation:
Votes for Hillary Clinton: 65,152,310
Votes for Donald Trump: 62,626,216
Votes for other candidates: 7,373,248
The Democrats are 2,526,094 votes ahead – but they won’t be in power after January 20.
Due to the American ‘electoral college’ system, it doesn’t matter that Hillary won the popular vote by such a stonking majority.
Her vote share, at 1.9% ahead of Trump, is bigger than that of 10 US presidents.
In most situations, it would be an impressive victory. She actually got more votes than any presidential candidate in history, except for Barack Obama.
If all the extra people who voted for Hillary over Trump came together to form a state, that state would be more populous than New Mexico, Hawaii, Nebraska and West Virginia (and a dozen others that we didn’t have the space to list).
So… What”s going on?
It might not seem fair, but it’s not the first time a president has won the election while failing to actually get the most votes.
This is thanks to the electoral college system, which means each state works on a ‘winner takes all’ basis.
If a candidate gets the majority of popular votes in a state, they win *all* of that state’s electoral votes. Even if they only win in that state by one vote, they get the whole pie.
So, in this way, a candidate like Trump can win entire states with really narrow majorities.
It is a a rare situation, but has happened four times before (although never to this extent):
- Al Gore lost to George W Bush in 2000 by five electoral votes even though he won the popular vote
- Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888
- Samuel Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876
- Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824
The electoral college seems to be working less effectively than it used to, given that the situation did not arise for the whole of the 20th Century but has happened twice since 2000.
Why has it taken so long to count votes?
States such as California still counted postal votes even if they arrived days after the election, as long as they were mailed on election day. Other states delayed their declaration because they thought the vote could be close and they might need a recount. Problems with voting machines could lead to a delay too, as well as actual recounts.
You generally expect that the person who wins the most votes wins the election, but that’s not how it always works in practice.
Are people angry about this system?
You can bet that if Donald Trump had won the popular vote but lost the election, many of his supporters would have been out on the streets calling for blood. The ‘rigged system’ was a major feature of Trump’s campaign and he regularly complained that US democracy was in crisis.
‘The electoral college is a disaster for a democracy’, he even tweeted in 2012.
And in a now-deleted tweet, he claimed in 2012 (inaccurately): ‘[Obama] lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!’
Since that same system helped him get to power, however, he seems to have had a change of heart.
Now, it’s ‘actually genius’.
However, people who feel their vote effectively didn’t count are unlikely to agree.
You’d imagine that one person, one vote, makes things equal.
But actually, there are vastly different numbers of individual votes which make up one electoral college vote (the one that actually counts).
In California, for example, it takes around half a million people to make up one electoral college vote.
But in Wymoming, which will contribute three electoral votes in total, there are only around 143,000 voters for each one.
In other words, a vote in Wyoming is worth around four times as much as in California.
Suddenly our own ‘first past the post’ system isn’t looking quite so bad?