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Five American presidents have lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College, most recently Donald Trump (who lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes but took the Electoral College, 306–232). Could the Electoral College again deliver the presidency to the loser of the popular vote this year?

In an effort to offer some clarity on this, and many of your other questions about the Electoral College throughout this campaign cycle (including Why do we have this system?), we invited our Constitution editor, Rebecca J. Rosen, to share her team’s approach to coverage, and a selection of salient arguments. As always, you can talk with us by replying directly to this email.

Lora Strum


Dear Reader,

The Framers came up with all sorts of clever innovations as they designed America’s system of government. But one that many critics think proved too clever by half—that, they argue, has been utterly destructive to the American project—is the Electoral College. This more-than-200-year-old system is rarely the focus of a given day’s news cycle, but it is a controlling factor in this moment. It is what gave us President Donald Trump in the first place, and it is what shapes the contest now for whether he will stay.

Over the past several years, our team here has run many pieces on it from a variety of perspectives—unpacking why it exists, arguing that it has done real damage, or making the case for getting rid of it. Here are a few of the ones that stand out.

—Becca


THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WAS TERrible frOM the start, by Garrett Epps (September 2019)

It’s doubtful even Alexander Hamilton believed what he was selling in “Federalist No. 68.”

(CHIP SOMODEVILLA / GETTY)

Obama Couldn’t Fix the System. Biden Must. by sarada Peri (August 2020)

If he wins the presidency, Joe Biden needs to reform how America votes.

(SHUTTERSTOCK / THE ATLANTIC)

The Electoral College’s Racist Origins, by Wilfred Codrington III (November 2019)

More than two centuries after it was designed to empower southern white voters, the system continues to do just that.

(FRANK SCHERSCHEL / THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION / GETTY)

Five Common Misconceptions About the Electoral College, by G. Alan Tarr (November 2019)

Defenders of the Electoral College argue that it was created to combat majority tyranny and support federalism, and that it continues to serve those purposes. This stance depends on a profound misunderstanding of the history of the institution.

(JONATHAN DRAKE / REUTERS)

the 53-state solution, by simon barnicle (february 2020)

New states are the answer to America’s minority-rule problem.

(VLADIMIR SVIRACEVIC / FILIP BJORKMAN / SHUTTERSTOCK / THE ATLANTIC)


How to—Carefully—Surmount the Electoral College, by Vikram David Amar (January 2020)

A plan to get the country closer to having a national popular election for president within the current constitutional framework—and without the need for a constitutional amendment

(JULIE JACOBSON / REUTERS)

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