(WAVY) — What is the Electoral College? It’s a question that’s been on the minds of voters since Tuesday’s election results.
On Wednesday, Republican nominee Donald Trump was elected president by securing 279 electoral votes. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.
It’s the second time in less than 20 years a presidential candidate has won the popular vote, but lost the election because of the Electoral College.
Old Dominion University Assistant Professor of Political Science and Geography Joshua Zingher says the Founding Fathers of America created the system to help represent minority voters.
“Opposed to determining the winner of the presidential election by majority votes, who gets the most voters nationwide, we have 50 state level elections where the winner takes all,” Zingher said.
Zingher says it helps prevent the more populated states from always picking the next president. He says when it was originally created, presidential candidates focused on Virginia, which was the biggest state at the time.
The Electoral College system now makes candidates appeal to all states, especially the less populated areas like New Hampshire and Iowa.
“The design of the Electoral College was to make these states important for candidates to appeal to so candidates couldn’t ignore the smaller states in expense of the big population center,” he said.
There are 538 electoral votes. Each vote represents a state senator, a state representative for the House, and three representatives for Washington D.C.
The bigger the state, the more electoral votes it will have.
Virginia has 13 electoral votes, while North Carolina has 15.
While Clinton won the popular vote by securing states like California and New York, Zingher says she missed out on the opportunity to sway smaller states and states that historically backed Democrats.
“That’s the nature of the Electoral College. She won in California by a ton of votes but by winning by a ton of votes in a particular state is the same as winning by one vote,” he said.
Clinton’s loss is the second time in the 21st century a presidential candidate won the popular vote, but lost the Electoral College vote. George W. Bush defeated Al Gore back in 2000 in the same manner.
So, is the Electoral College system outdated? Zingher says its worked so far, for the past two centuries, and works to protect smaller states. He says it would be too hard to change what’s already in place.
“Things would be different. I don’t know if elections would be better,” Zingher said.
The Electoral College electors will meet in December to officially elect Donald Trump as the president-elect. It is possible that some electors could change their votes, different from their state’s selection, but it has rarely happened in history.
Many states have laws prohibiting electors from changing their votes. Virginia is one of those states.