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Blaming The Electoral College Oversimplifies The Problem

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Can you name the only two presidents who have won the popular vote in three consecutive elections?

The first and most obvious would be Franklin Roosevelt, who won four consecutive elections between 1932-1944. The other would be Grover Cleveland, who accomplished this feat between 1884-1892.

The glaring difference between the two: Cleveland lost his 1888 reelection bid to Benjamin Harrison, but won the popular vote. Therefore, Cleveland has the historical distinction of being the 22nd and 24th president, and was also the last person to win the popular vote but lose an election for 112 years.

Winning the presidential election without winning the popular vote has only occurred five times in the nation's history. It did not happen at all in the 20th century, but we've witnessed this phenomenon twice in the 21st century.

Democrats have won the popular vote four out of five times this century, but have lost three of the five elections.

It does appear that Hillary Clinton's margin over Donald Trump may be the largest over any candidate who failed to win. But that's good for trivia questions and moral victories.

Here are Clinton's thoughts on the Electoral College after she was elected to the Senate in 2000: "We are a very different country than we were 200 years ago. I believe strongly that in a democracy, we should respect the will of the people and to me, that means it's time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president."

There's no doubt the current system is flawed. As Robert Speel, associate professor at Penn State University, recently pointed out in a Time Magazine article, Trump's margin of victory in Pennsylvania and Florida was roughly a combined 200,000 votes, which garnered 49 electoral votes in the current winner-take-all system. Conversely, Clinton won Massachusetts by nearly one million votes, and won 11 electoral votes.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced legislation last week to get rid of the Electoral College, after Clinton's loss despite leading in the popular vote. This is a ceremonial exercise that will obviously go nowhere. I'm certain that abolishing the Electoral College would be high on the Republicans list had they lost in a similar fashion.

The problem I have with recent calls to abolish the Electoral College is that they come on the heels of defeat, making such appeals reactionary. I am usually suspect of reactionary proposals because they tend to possess an overreliance on a preferred outcome (In reaction to X, I am proposing Y so that Z will occur).

Did the problems that exist today with the Electoral College, exist in 2008? What about 2012?

Under the nom de plume, "Publius," James Madison wrote in Federalist no. 10 that delegates distrusted the passions of the people. Madison and others questioned the ability of average voters to make a reasoned decision in electing a president. Are Madison's contentions in 1787 applicable today?

The Electoral College in its present form is problematic, but to offer it as the reason Clinton lost is reactionary and shortsighted.

Clinton lost, in part, to the power of the Apathetic Party flexing its nihilistic muscles. At the time of this writing, according to CNN, 26.3 percent of eligible voters supported Trump, while 26.5 voted for Clinton. It marked the lowest voter turnout in 20 years.

American democracy cannot survive if it continues on this declining path of sub-60 percent voter turnout. And quite frankly, that is unacceptable. Both Clinton and Trump received fewer votes than Mitt Romney, who lost to President Obama in 2012. Even Obama's historic election in 2008 garnered only 33 percent of the voting populace.

How does America address the growing decline in voter participation? Or is it a problem that warrants consideration?

Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, stated in 1980: "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

When Weyrich says "our leverage," he was speaking specifically about the ability of conservatives to win elections. But he's absolutely right in that American elections "are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country."

Though right about the past, are his sentiments in the best interest for a nation going forward still, at least on paper, in pursuit of that more perfect union?

Time will tell.