Sen. Barbara Boxer at USC in 2010
Sen. Barbara Boxer at USC in 2010

California Senator Proposes a Popular Vote for U.S. Presidents

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California wants future presidents to be elected by popular vote instead of via the arguably arcane and complicated Electoral College system.

As you're probably aware, for the second time since 2000, a candidate who won the popular vote lost the election. Hillary Clinton is ahead by 1 million popular votes and could win by more than 2 million, according to estimates. Donald Trump is expected to win 306 Electoral College votes, when only 270 were needed. Clinton nabbed 228.

"I think the outcome of the presidential election is a dramatic demonstration of the Electoral College's deficits," says Jeffrey Sellers, associate professor of political science at USC's Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Trump's total electoral votes include those from some key states in the Midwest that narrowly favored the real estate mogul, resulting in all-or-nothing victories. California's 6.2 million popular votes in favor of Clinton — nearly 3 million more than Donald Trump received here — easily overshadow his margins in many smaller states. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out today, California alone could account for Clinton's popular-vote win. "The actual margin that Trump won in the swing states is much smaller than the margin by which Clinton is likely to win the popular vote overall," Sellers says.

The system was created by the founding fathers to appease smaller Southern states concerned they'd be overshadowed by more populous northern ones. The question is whether those Southern states still need such affirmative action.

Boxer said she will introduce legislation to bring an end to the Electoral College. "When all the ballots are counted, Hillary Clinton will have won the popular vote by a margin that could exceed 2 million votes, and she is on track to have received more votes than any other presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama," Boxer said in a statement. "This is the only office in the land where you can get more votes and still lose the presidency. The Electoral College is an outdated, undemocratic system that does not reflect our modern society, and it needs to change immediately. Every American should be guaranteed that their vote counts."

Boxer joins a few electors and many folks on Change.org who want the election to better reflect the popular will. But the efforts are a long shot. Boxer would have to convince a Republican-controlled Congress to approve an idea that would've sent two Democrats to the White House.

In that unlikely event, Congress then would send the matter to states for ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures within seven years. A vast majority of state legislatures are controlled by Trump's party, the GOP.  "This has become a partisan issue," Sellers says. "As a matter of policy, it's clear the Electoral College is outmoded. Whether we can expect changes is another issue."

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