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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.