ATLANTA, Nov. 4, 2008 — The winner of the popular vote in any presidential election isn’t automatically the next president. As was the case in the 2000 election, it’s the Electoral College vote that counts.
There are 538 electoral votes and a candidate today needs at least 270 to be elected president. In the 2000 election, when former Vice President Al Gore carried the popular vote, George Bush won the Electoral College and the presidency.
Similar scenarios played out in 1876 and 1888.
In 1876, Samuel J. Tilden, a Democrat, netted 4,285,992 popular votes to Rutherford B. Hayes’ 4,033,768. Hayes, however, won the Electoral College’s vote 185-184. The Compromise of 1877 settled the disputed election and brought about the end of Reconstruction.
In 1888, Democrat Grover Cleveland, an incumbent president, earned 5,538,233 popular votes to Benjamin Harrison’s 5,440,216. Harrison, however, won the Electoral vote 233-168, becoming president; Cleveland rebounded in 1892 to defeat Harrison.
In the 2000 election, Bush defeated Gore in the Electoral College by a vote of 271-266. Gore won the popular vote 50,999,897-50,456,002.
Should the Electoral College end up with a 269-269 vote tie, the House of Representatives will select the next president, as set out by the 12th amendment, adopted in 1804.
It dictates the House of Representatives choose a president should none of the candidates win the Electoral College’s vote. The Senate chooses the vice president.
That scenario has only played out twice – in 1825, the House elected John Quincy Adams president. Twelve years later, on Feb. 8, 1837, the Senate by a 33-16 vote elected Richard Johnson as vice president. At that time, the vice president was elected separately from the president.
The amendment followed the election of 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 electoral votes. The House of Representatives spent seven days debating before it elected Jefferson as the nation’s third president.