WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Even if President Obama loses the popular vote on Nov. 6, as some national polls are projecting, he could still get re-elected by winning in the Electoral College, where he currently holds an edge over Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
If that scenario plays out, it would mark the third time that has happened in the nation's history and the first since George W. Bush entered the White House in 2000 after losing the popular vote to Former Vice President Al Gore, Jr. by 500,000 votes.
"The Electoral College is a process, not a place," the U.S. Electoral Colleges notes on its Web site. "The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens."
States have the same number of electors as they have members in their congressional delegation. In addition to the 535 members of Congress, the 22nd Amendment provides that the District of Columbia is allocated three electors and treated like a state under this process.
A majority – 270 of the 538 electors – is needed to become president and vice president. Generally, electors are selected by the candidate's political party and can be counted on to support the party's nominee. With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, all states have a winner-take-all system. That's important for large states, such as California, which has 55 electors or 20 percent of the votes needed for victory.
The names of electors generally appear on the presidential ballots in most states. States tabulate the votes of electors in December of an election year before forwarding results to Congress for a final count.
A 2009 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), titled, "Electoral College Reform: 111th Congress Proposals and Other Current Developments," stated: "…This system has elected the candidate with the most popular votes in 48 of the 52 presidential elections held since the 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804. The four exceptions have been negatively characterized by some commentators as Electoral College 'misfires.'
"In three instances (1876, 1888 and 2000), the Electoral College awarded the presidency to candidates who won a majority of electoral votes, but gained fewer popular votes than their principal opponents. In a fourth case (1824), the House of Representatives decided the contest by contingent election because no candidate had an electoral vote majority."
Unlike Gore, who accepted the results after the Supreme Court halted the counting of ballots in Florida and handed down a decision favoring Bush, House Republicans would likely use the outcome to increase their partisan attacks on President Obama. They would most likely call for abolishing the Electoral College, a position they did not take when Bush assumed the presidency after losing the popular vote.
By design, the U.S. Constitution is not easily amended. Proposed amendments must be approved by a two-thirds vote in the House and Senate and passage by three-fourths of the states, usually within seven years. Over the past 200 years, more than 700 proposals have been introduced in Congress to reform or eliminate the Electoral College. None have been passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.
The CRS report noted, "In the final analysis, given the high hurdles – both constitutional and political – faced by any proposed amendment, it seems unlikely that the Electoral College system will be replaced or reformed by constitutional amendment unless its alleged failings become so compelling that large concurrent majorities in Congress, the states, and among the public, are disposed to undertake its reform or abolition."
Under the present system, a joint session of Congress will be convened on Jan. 6 to officially count the electoral votes. The vice president and president of the Senate preside over the session and announce the official tally.
In the unlikely event that neither Obama nor Romney receives the 270 electoral votes needed to become president, the Republican-led House of Representatives would pick the president and the Democratic-controlled Senate would select the vice president. That means Romney would probably be elected president and Joe Biden would likely remain as vice president. Few political scientists expect that to happen. Going into this week, Obama was leading in 11 polls taken in battleground states, Romney was ahead in four and two were tied.
Every president re-elected in the last 50 years returned to office with a larger share of the popular vote than they had received in their first term. If Obama loses the popular election to Romney, he would be the exception. And if he loses the election and wins in the Electoral College, the strained relations between Republicans and the White House is likely to grow worse.
Mark Mckinnon, a political strategist for George W. Bush, told the Washington Post, that if Obama returns to the White House in that manner, "the Republican base will be screaming that Romney should be president, and Obama doesn't represent the country." He added, "It's going to encourage more hyperpartisanship."
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