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Video:What Is the Popular Vote?

with Nathan Buck

In this About.com video, brush up on your political knowledge, and learn the distinction between the 'Popular Vote' and the 'Electoral College.'See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is the Popular Vote?

Hi, my name is Nathan Buck for About.com. For this segment I am going to answer the question: "What is the Popular Vote?"

Overview of the Popular Vote

In the simplest terms, the popular vote is the raw tally of all qualified voters who have voted for a candidate or number of candidates. In most elections this is the number that determines who wins an election in that the candidate with the most votes also wins the election.

The Popular Vote and the Electoral College

However, in the United States presidential race, the President and Vice President are actually elected by the States each of which has appointed a set number of "electors" who are members of the electoral college. This number of electors is the same as the total number of U.S. Representatives and Senators in Congress, with an additional 3 electors allocated to the District of Columbia. With a few exceptions (in Nebraska and Maine), the electors are bound by state law to vote with the popular vote tally in each individual state. Thus, it is possible for a candidate for president to lose the popular vote and still win in the electoral college, thus winning the election. This is, in fact, what happened in 2000 when Al Gore was defeated by George W. Bush. Although Gore won the popular vote by 456,105 votes, his narrow and highly controversial defeat in Florida by a few hundred votes led to Bush winning the electoral college with 271 votes to Gore's 266 votes. The President and Vice-President of the United States are the only two elected officials who are not chosen by popular vote in the United States.

The History of the Popular Vote

Although the principal of the popular vote has been around since the founding of the United States the definintion of who gets to vote has changed dramatically. When the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights was written in the 1780s and 90s only white, male property owners were eligible to vote. In the 1820s the property requirement was abolished followed by the passage of the 15th amendment in 1870 which abolished the disenfranchisment of people of color, and the 19th amendment in 1920 which gave women the vote. The most recent change to the U.S. Constitution affecting voting rights was passed in 1971 with the 26th amendment which lowered the voting age in the U.S. to 18.

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