When the founding fathers devised the system of electors - later known as the Electoral College -, they were largely responding to two questions that are still part of the political landscape today:
- how much power would the individual states have as opposed to the central government?
- how to balance the power of small and large states?
Since every state gets two electors regardless of its population, the framers of the constitution gave the less populous states a larger say in the final vote than the weight their votes would have had in a contest decided by a popular national vote.
Since the rest of the electors in each state is determined by the size of its population, the system established in the constitution also reflects the relative weight of each state’s population.
In most instances the popular will and the actual election by the “federation of independent states” have coincided: in other words, the candidate who won the popular vote nationwide also obtained a majority in the Electoral College.
But four times in American history this was not the case.
In 2000, for example, the presidential candidate with the majority of the popular vote, Al Gore, lost the election to the candidate, George W Bush, who won in the Electoral College.
This can happen because the vote for the electoral college in each state in on a winner-take-all basis.
Let us say that state A and state B with equal populations have three electors each in the Electoral College. Candidate X wins state A by a large majority. Candidate Y wins state B by a hair's breadth. Both candidates will have an equal number of electors from those two states, even though candidate X will have received many more votes.