Part 3 – Designing the User Interface


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It is because of the winner-take-all approach that it is possible to lose the popular vote and win the Electoral College. This is in part because even the smallest states get three votes, so in a state like Wyoming each Elector represents less than 200,000 people, but in California, each elector represents over 700,000 people. This overrepresentation of the smaller states allows candidates who lose the popular vote to become President.

According to the Federal Election Commission this has happened 5 times in our history, most recently in 2000 and 2016. The other 53 winners won both the popular vote and the Electoral College.

1824, John Quincy Adams


In 1824 John Quincy Adams, our 6th president, became the first elected president to lose the popular vote. The other three candidates in this race were Andrew Jackson, William Crawford and Henry Clay. That year Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but was 32 electoral votes short of the necessary plurality. The vote was sent to the House of Representatives, and in accordance with the 12th Amendment they could only vote for the top three candidates, which eliminated Clay who was the Speaker of the House. The House elected Adams despite the fact that he had lost the electoral vote to Jackson 84 to 99 (1)   As Speaker of the House, Clay, who had used his political clout to get Adams elected, was awarded for his efforts by being named Secretary of State.

“[T]he Judas of the West has closed the contract and will receive the thirty pieces of silver,” said Jackson. “Was there ever witnessed such a bare faced corruption in any country before?”

1876, Rutherford B. Hayes

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The 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes, who lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, was also decided by Congress. Hayes only won 165 electoral votes; 20 votes short of the 185 needed at the time. A bipartisan Federal Election Commission composed of the House, Senate and Supreme Court justices was created and elected Hayes 185 to 184. Hayes had lost both the popular vote and the electoral vote, leaving many people to speculate that he was elected as some type of compromise in exchange for the federal troops being removed from the former Confederate states. 

1888, Benjamin Harrison


In the 1888 election that was riddled with corruption, challenger Benjamin Harrison beat the incumbent President Grover Cleveland. There were mass allegations on both sides of people paying citizens to vote. A letter surfaced that allegedly showed one party buying votes and their plan to disrupt the opposition’s bribery efforts. Cleveland won the popular vote by more than 90,000 but lost the electoral vote 233 to 168. Four years later Cleveland defeated Harrison, making him the first of only two U. S. Presidents to serve non-consecutive terms. 

2000, George W. Bush

In 2,000, after a 36-day political and legal battle that was ultimately decided by the Supreme court, George W. Bush lost the popular vote with 47.9% to Al Gore with 48.4% but received 271 electoral votes. In this, the closest election in American history, with more than 100 million votes cast, almost 6 million in Florida were Bush won by only 537 votes and received Florida’s 25 electoral votes and became President. Gore had 543,895 more nation popular votes than President Bush. 

2016, Donald J. Trump


In 2016 Donald J. Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes to become president. Clinton won by large margins in big cities and the populous states of California and New York. Trump won narrow victories, of less than 1%, in the battleground states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Trump won by a huge Electoral College vote of 304 to 227.