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How the United States Will Elect The Next President in 2020 in Five Simple Steps

Through his travels and reading, Chris gathers information and writes about historical events and concepts that are often overlooked.


Elections Are Carried Out According to Law

The way America elects a president is not all that complicated. The process is determined by current Election Law. These laws can be changed, but they cannot be ignored. This article looks back at the 2016 presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and examines how the American process works.

How States Elect the President

The United States actually does utilize the popular vote when electing a president. It is the popular vote in each state that determines to whom that state's electoral votes will be applied.

  1. Each eligible voter in a particular state votes
  2. Votes are counted per state.
  3. A candidate wins a state based on the popular vote in that state.
  4. All Electoral College votes for the state go to the winner (Nebraska and Maine split the EC Votes proportionally)
  5. The states, via the Electoral College votes allotted them, elect the president.

In the 2016 presidential election, Trump won the popular vote in thirty-six states. Hillary won the popular vote in fourteen states. Trump did not win the popular vote nationwide. But we do not elect the president by the nationwide popular vote. In terms of the outcome, it is irrelevant, according to current election law, that Hillary won the nationwide popular vote.

How the 2016 Presidential Election Was Won

Trump won the popular vote in the most states.

Hillary won the popular vote nationwide.

According to Election Law, it is the will of the states that determines the outcome of the election, not the popular vote.

Therefore, Trump won the election.

If Trump Had Stepped Aside, Would Hillary Be President?

Many would like to have seen President-elect Donald Trump step aside so that Hillary Clinton could have become president since she won the popular vote. What would have happened if President-elect Trump had done this? According to Law, would Hillary have been next in line to be president?

The Twenty-fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution settles this debate. I am assuming what applies to a sitting president also applies to the President-elect prior to taking office.

Section one of the amendment states the following: "In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President."

Therefore, per the Constitution of the United States, Vice President-elect, Mike Pence would have become president if Trump had resigned. Hillary Clinton was not in any way entitled to the office of President following her loss in the general election.

Why Do We Have The Electoral College?

If a presidential election was based purely on the nationwide popular vote, candidates would campaign in the areas of the largest populations. Major cities would be pummeled with the appearances of candidates, with billboard ads, radio and television spots. Rural areas would be entirely bypassed.

Not only would campaigning be concentrated on large cities, but most legislation would focus on those same, few, highly populated areas as politicians competed for the loyalty of those voters.

For this reason, the president is chosen by the popular vote of each state, not the popular vote of the entire nation. Once a State has chosen one of the candidates, its electoral votes are applied accordingly. Only Nebraska and Maine divide the electoral votes proportionally. The number of electoral votes of a state is equal to its number of congressional seats which in turn are based on that state's population.

This method insures that candidates campaign in every state, not just those with large population centers. Current law causes states to be the focal population centers for presidential campaigns rather than large cities. Geographically speaking, without the Electoral College, the vast majority of America would be ignored during presidential campaigns. They would simply be spectators as the large cities elected their president.

NYC or Missoula?

The following table shows why the EC is so important to less populated states. Imagine you are a presidential candidate and the election will be determined by the nationwide popular vote. Where would you schedule your next big rally? Missoula, Montana, population 67,000 and second largest city in the state, or NYC, population 8.5 million? There would be no reason to go to Montana. You are only interested in numbers, not where the voters live. The EC gives Montana importance. If you don't campaign there, you don't get its electoral votes. Trump won because he garnered the electoral votes from less populated states. Election by popular vote would leave states like Montana out of the process.

If you were running for president in a race requiring a simple majority nationwide, where would you campaign?


New York, NY

8.5 million

Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska

Roughly 8.5 million combined



The Bottom Line Question About Electing a President

The presidential election of 2016 came down to this question. Should the will of thirty-six states have been rendered impotent by the will of fourteen states which happened to have large populations?

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The disenfranchisement of large numbers of Americans in vast, sparsely populated states was one reason for the adoption of the Electoral College as the method of electing a president. Think about it carefully before deciding that the EC should be scuttled in favor of a national, popular vote.

© 2016 Chris Mills


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on January 03, 2017:

Deborah, Thank you for reading this article. I'm sorry I missed seeing your comment earlier. I'm glad it helped clarify the issue.Thanks for reading.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on January 03, 2017:

Ann, I apologize for missing your comment on my article. I'm glad it shed some light on the topic for you. Thanks for reading.

Deborah Demander on December 26, 2016:

Thanks for a very informative and interesting article. I appreciate you clarifying the state popular vote.


Ann Carr from SW England on December 16, 2016:

This all sounds reasonable to me; thanks for explaining it.

I never did understand the system in the USA but it now sounds quite simple! I can understand the argument of some being dismissed as unimportant if the nationwide populous vote was deemed more important.

Our system seems much more simple than most - three main parties who come and go, with a few others from time to time. It works in the main, though there are some who would prefer proportional representation. In countries which have PR, the government always seems to end up as a coalition; not sure whether that's good or bad but it makes for more difficult government I think.

Lots of food for thought, Chris.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on December 02, 2016:

mr. rooshdy12, thanks for visiting and for sharing the article on your blog.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 23, 2016:

It would be nice if every presidential election could be won by both the EC and popular votes. But the founders foresaw the problems and spoke to the issues that would arise. The result of the last election was one of the issues they provided for. I am so glad, once again, that our founders were such intelligent, far seeing people. Thank you Genna. It's good to see you today. Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on November 23, 2016:

The EC serves its purpose. Thank you for this enlightening summary, Chris. I think it's a must read for naysayers who are arguing over winning the popular vote versus the EC in our recent election. Thank goodness it doesn't come up too often -- only five time in our nation's history.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 22, 2016:

Suhail and my dog, I am so glad to hear that your family and friends here in America participated in this election. The process still works. Thanks for reading.

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on November 21, 2016:

Nice, easy to read, precise! Yes, this is how the Americans, including my in-laws, a sister and her family, and lots and lots of relatives, elect the President of the United States.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

Old Guard, Once again, excellent material. Share all you want.

John Wilson from Whereever I hang my hat is my hone. Currently in Ibarra, Ecuador on November 20, 2016:

Hey Cam85,

Again, not trying to take away anything from your article.

But, if you really want an understanding of the Electoral College and the reasons behind it, what I had to do was forget what I learned in school.

I looked at what was written in the beginning of the country and how it evolved.

The founders didn't want a centralized government, entirely. They knew that there had to be some order between the states, and that's how George Washington became known as the first President - he brought order to the states. (There were actually 13 people before him that actually were "President")

Look at the regiments in the Civil War. They fought for the Confederates and the Union, but the were from states, Michigan regiment, the Tennessee Regiment, etc.

It's only after the Civil War, when the south was completely annihilated, that the Federal Government consolidated it's power.

There's quite a few lies in our history books.

States powers were supposed to keep the Federal Government in check, so large populated areas could not force a belief on other states. (If you look at the areas that voted for hillary killary - east coast, west coast, large metro areas)

If we went with the popular vote, 15% of the land mass in the U.S. would be telling the other 85% how to behave.

That's why there's 2 Senators from each state, vs. a population based representation in the House of Representatives. That was part of the checks and balances.

States rights were an important structure within the Constitution, but have basically ben annihilated, except for the Electoral College. This is one of the "saving grace" stipulations that hasn't been touched, as of yet.

Thanks for letting me share what I've learned over the years, I appreciate it.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

The Old Guard, I just kept seeing the knee jerk reaction to the election and people saying the EC should be scuttled. I have to admit I wasn't even sure if it should be kept around. I brushed up on the details and began to recognize some of the problems that would arise if we let it go. Most of those I put in the article. You have added a depth to the discussion I could not provide and I appreciate it very much. I'll be rereading your comments to get a better grasp of them.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

Thanks for the encouragement DTMB. You are welcome on my hubs anytime. Nice to have you taking part in this discussion.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on November 20, 2016:

Thanks for these explanations. This is missing from the reports which keep on touting that Hillary won the most popular vote, but lost the election. Now we can make some sense of that.

John Wilson from Whereever I hang my hat is my hone. Currently in Ibarra, Ecuador on November 20, 2016:

Actually, it is in your response to your comment to Venkatachari M, where you mentioned States Rights.

This is one of the many things that led to the Civil War.

The ballots in some southern states didn't even have Lincoln on the ballot.

At the end of the Civil War, the Federal Government garnered the power to rule over the states.

Until that culmination of consolidation, the States had more control of what transpired in D.C.

As Lincoln stated numerous times during the Civil War, it was about keeping the Union intact and had little do do with slavery as a cause for the Civil War.

Remember, when the 17th Amendment was passed, many people who'd live through the Civil War were still alive.

The 17th Amendment was the culmination of the consolidation of power in D.C.

Google it and you can read about how the South didn't even get a chance to vote for Lincoln. But here's a short statement:

Abraham Lincoln, the endorsed Republican candidate for President, didn't even appear on ten Deep South states' ballots in 1860. What gives? Was he excluded because....

1. Antipathy towards him as a (perceived) foe of slavery led state officials to illegally exclude him;

2. He didn't qualify for a line on the ballot for some actually legal and proper reason;

3. Something else?

So, the Electoral College is a "hangover", if you will, of when States had a much bigger say in what D.C. could and couldn't do.

If the Electoral College goes, then the Constitution really becomes null and void.

There will be no voice at all from the states about the actions in D.C.

It comes to my mind, that those in power control the "history" that we read in school. It's not always the truth.

Hope that helps you, cam85.

Not trying to take anything away from your article. It's most enlightening if you look at it's history.


Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor on November 20, 2016:

Cam you aren't the only one who finds discussions with PP to be rather odd and impossible to understand. His comments often have nothing to do with what he is replying to or commenting about and on his hub pages if you point that out he simply deletes your comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

Old Guard, Do me a favor and let me know if you are responding to my article or what I said to PPP. I hope I'm not coming across as not interested in states' rights and having a much less powerful federal government than we now have.

Having said that, you have done a very good job of giving us some good history on the issue. While we are one nation, we are also a nation of separate states which have rights of their own. I appreciate your knowledge on this subject and am happy to have your thoughts included in these comments for others to read.

John Wilson from Whereever I hang my hat is my hone. Currently in Ibarra, Ecuador on November 20, 2016:

Hey Chris,

The point about "States Rights" is actually very important, when looking at the Electoral College

It used to be that Senators were selected by State Legislators, then sent to D.C..

If they did not follow instructions given by State Legislators, they could be called back to the state and fired.

Then came the 17th Amendment, the election of Senators. What this did was take away more rights from the States.

Since Senators were now "elected", they could not be fired by State Legislatures.

This was done for two reasons:

1) More centralized power in the hands of the Federal Government (Those elected could be "long term" fighters for a particular cause that was not necessarily in the interest to the states they were from)

2) The State Legislatures now had no recourse at the Federal level, (They could not replace those that were not putting the states rights above those at the Centralized Government level)

If you read most founders thoughts, a strong, centralized government was to be feared, not sought after.

Government, in essence, negates the freedoms of the citizens.

The stronger the Federal Government, the fewer freedoms enjoyed by the populace.

The Electoral College is the last standing wall against a tyrannical Federal Government that's not following the wishes of the states that make up the Union.

It's the Union of States that give the Federal Government permission to rule. It's not the Federal Government that gives the rights of States to exist.

It's then the citizens in each state that give permission to be ruled.

The Federal Government has as much power as the citizens, then the states, allow them to have.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

PPP, I did not say the general population selected the electors. In fact I didn't even mention how they were selected. Also, Yes, 270, game over. The popular vote DOES count in a general election. It counts in each state. The popular vote determines which presidential candidate gets the electoral votes from that state. Nationwide, the popular vote does not count. So, I am restating what I said in the hub. You seem to be arguing some point, but I don't know with whom.

I'm not even sure you read the article, so please do so before commenting again. If you did read it, then read it again, more carefully.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on November 20, 2016:

The way the electoral college works is the first candidate to get more than 270 votes, becomes the president, game over It's winner takes all. The electors are selected by the states parties committees, not the general population. The populous does not select the electors. The electors are selected by a group of people that the general population doesn't even know who they are what they are about.

If the candidate wins the electoral college and the popular vote. The game is over. If the candidate loses the electoral college but wins the popular vote, the other candidate wins. So what is the purposes of the popular vote for president, if according to many comments on this hub, all the candidates and their campaigns all know that the electoral college votes are the ones that win. Why even have the popular vote for president, if it means nothing and everybody knows how the electoral college works? Am I missing something here?

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

Venkatachari M, Thanks for visiting and for your comment. The EC method of electing a president was put together at a time when the importance of the states was more clearly seen. The EC gives power to the states and to the citizens of each and every state. The nationwide popular vote loses that element.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

John, I'm glad it helped. I think the concept sounds a little confusing, so a lot of people just turn off their brain on the topic. Our founders didn't just dream up a wacky system for no reason. And the EC is no more outdated than the constitution as a whole. In fact, the bigger our cities get, the more important the EC becomes. Thanks for visiting.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 20, 2016:

Back at ya, Eric. :)

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on November 19, 2016:

Superb, Chris! You have put it all in a nutshell. There should be no refutation of your argument. The decision of the majority of states is the final decision, even though it might not be much appealing to our tastes.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on November 19, 2016:

Thank you for explaining this, Chris. I thought that was how it must have worked, but you confirmed it and made things even clearer for this non-American.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 19, 2016:

In case I forgot to say it lately -- you are real cool Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

Eric, Thanks for reminding us of the value of the rights of each state. We are one nation, but we are also fifty states. Both pieces need to be understood and respected. Thank you for visiting and sharing your thoughts.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on November 19, 2016:

On this issue I just get up in the morning and am thankful for my state(s). I really like our Republic. I especially love the fierce independence of our Northeast and Southwestern states. State run National Guards are awesome and schools reflect more local that national. My birth state and my adopted state are great and totally different. I think I would like to smoke a joint in Colorado and carry my sidearm in Arizona and then join the Sierra Club in California.

Please people do not take my states rights away. My state votes the way my people want it to vote. Maybe no my way but our way.

Great article my friend - you truly are a thinker and give writers a good name.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

No deletes here. Everybody has to live with what they say.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

Ruby, I appreciate how you have accepted this. I wish more would so we could get on with life. The popular vote may change a little, but the EC is in. It is over.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

The Old Guard, very good points. Thank you for the comment.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

PP, of course if the official count of the election somehow was turned in Hillary's favor, she would win. My article assumes that the electoral vote count will remain in Trump's favor, which you already admitted is likely. We really need for the vote count to be completed. It is important for the country, I think. But Trump didn't play the Electoral vote any more than any other candidate ever has. They all work it so they will have the best chance at winning. Saying Trump did something different than anyone else has ever done just isn't true. The game was figured out a long time ago. Trump won the EC fair and square. Hillary went for the big population centers, the cities. You can see that on any map of the voting. Trump went everywhere.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on November 19, 2016:

DTMB: The key to Trump's win was breakthroughs in Rustbelt states who Clinton had thought safely in her corner: Pennsylvania ,Wisconsin, and Michigan. That's what the polls do for you. Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign manager, said that he didn't follow the polls, but he had Trump tell the people in those states what they would like to hear.

I'm not going to even dignify your last sentence.

John Wilson from Whereever I hang my hat is my hone. Currently in Ibarra, Ecuador on November 19, 2016:


Just for curiosity, not looking for a fight, how does one "game" the system?

hillary killary had:

1) Almost all the media behind her

2) She had the debate questions before the debates

3) She had the elite GOP backing her

4) She had news media's questions before any interviews

5) She had obama slamming Trump. along with most of the media and the GOP

6) She even had the Pope denouncing Trump

So, with all that in her favor, how did Trump "game" the Electoral College other than orating what most felt?

hillary killary had access, just like Trump did.

Are you saying, like obama did in 2008, that she's unfit to be president because she'll say and do anything to get there, accept the "right" thing?

Just wondering.........

Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor on November 19, 2016:

PP like Hillary didn't figure out and try to do the same thing? They always campaign for the electoral vote, this is nothing new nor does it take some sort of "figuring out", the popular vote has always been meaningless. As a matter of fact in the marginal states Hillary did campaign in she was rejected.

Neither candidate ever campaigns for the popular vote, that would be meaningless, it's always been about the electoral votes for both sides and anyone who says differently is ignorant of the election process here or just trying to desperately create a straw man that the popular vote really won the election.

It's nice to be able to disagree with your propagandized comments without you deleting me.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on November 19, 2016:

I was wrong, it is December 19th that the electors cast their ballots. I didn't get to my comment in time. The editing window closed. Sorry.

Mike Russo from Placentia California on November 19, 2016:

Trump's campaign people figured out how to game the electoral college. It is the one very important element that you left out of your article. All that a state needs is a majority of the electoral votes in order to gain all of them. In other words if a state has won more than 51 percent of the electoral votes, it gets the remaining for that state. As an example, Pennsylvania has 20 electoral college votes, if it gets 11 votes for a candidate, that candidate is automatically granted the other 9. It is a winner take all situation. Therefore if a candidate campaigns heavily in those states that have fewer electoral votes allocated to them, the candidate can reach a majority much faster than say California can with 55 electoral votes. They would have to win 23, in order to take all the votes.

That's what Trump and his people did. They concentrated on the small states where they could gain the most electoral votes by winner takes all. Hillary and her people did not do that because the polls showed that she had those votes wrapped up. Boy was she wrong.

The President Elect and Vice President Elect do not have official status of those offices until all the electoral votes are cast by the electors in each state, which takes place today 11/19/2016. Therefore if Hillary gets more electoral votes from the electors than Trump, Hillary becomes president. It is very unlikely but those are the rules.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on November 19, 2016:

People who want the EC scuttled should read this. I wanted Hillary to win so badly but Trump won as he should have, he won more states. Maybe the next time the candidates will pay more attention to the little people in the rural areas. Thanks for this informative hub.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

DTMB, I think it will take time for people to understand things. The emotions of this election won't allow people to have the objectivity needed to grasp the truth. Will Republicans change their tune when the other party wins this way.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

The Old Guard, I appreciate you reading this article and your comments. I believe if we switched to a popular vote, we would see the shortcomings very quickly.

Banned cause of PISSANTS Promisem and Dean Traylor on November 19, 2016:

Flash Political Science. I fear it's still too long and complicated for the "Hillary won the popular vote crowd" to understand that is nothing but a meaningless mantra.

John Wilson from Whereever I hang my hat is my hone. Currently in Ibarra, Ecuador on November 19, 2016:

Yupper, Chris,

Well written piece, simple and easy to follow.

Funny how our founders foresaw so many things that could happen to derail the Republic they gave us.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on November 19, 2016:

Hi Bill. This is called Flash Political Science. The twists in the real world go way beyond anything I could dream up for a flash fiction story. Thanks for checking this out.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 19, 2016:

As an old Political Science teacher I would say yes, that is exactly how we elect a President. Nice, easy summary, my friend.

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