Conservative talk show host Michael Medved has an interesting column in The Daily Beast in which he offers the scenario that Mitt Romney could get the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president while losing the popular vote to President Obama by possibly several million votes. (Read) Medved cites the possibility of Obama winning huge majorities in states that Romney is weak in and ignores (California, New York) coupled with narrow Romney wins in swing states such as Ohio and Florida.
I think it’s a longshot for any popular vote loser to win the electoral college. I know it happened in 2ooo with George W. Bush and Al Gore, but it’s so rare. And the 2000 result was primarily due to three real-time factors: an embarrassing late revelation that candidate Bush had been arrested for drunken driving; a late get-out-the-vote surge for Gore’s base of voters; and finally, an inexplicable campaign mistake by the overconfident Bush camp, which went into neutral a few days before the finish and missed a chance to contain the Gore surge.
Nevertheless, Medved points out that fewer than 700,000 added votes to McCain’s 2008 total could provide an electoral win for Romney. Medved writes: “In order to accomplish this feat, Romney needs to add as few as 650,000 votes to McCain’s totals in just six decisive states to get an Electoral College victory with the bare minimum of 270 votes, even though Obama won in 2008 with a near-landslide margin of nearly 9 million votes in the popular total—18 times Al Gore’s popular-vote advantage over Bush.”
Our Constitution dictates that the winner of the electoral college wins the presidency. Having said that, if Obama outpolls Romney by a few million votes chaos will likely result -unless President Obama concedes the election immediately. Yet, if any candidate loses the presidency after polling more than million more votes than the “winner,” it’s hard to blame supporters for feeling cheated. If Romney wins that way, it will never be allowed to happen again.
Medved writes: “It’s easy to imagine the national levels of rage, and impossible not to envision the president of the United States lending his voice to the angry chorus. In the five weeks before Dec. 17, the day when electors formally assemble in their respective state capitals, the president could push electors to shift support to him—even if they defied state legislation requiring winner-take-all distribution of electoral votes to the victor in that state and ignored laws of 24 states threatening punishment to “faithless electors.” The arguments would be fiery and, most likely, somewhat effective: insisting that basic fairness and democratic principle should trump any concern over the creaky, 19th-century relic known as the Electoral College.”
I remain skeptical the results will be so disparate as to create such a controversy. Presidential elections are won via a national mood, and/or very motivated supporters. A “technicality” win, where Romney attracts a smidgen more electoral support than McCain but loses the popular vote to an only marginally popular Obama, is a very negative result. For that to occur would require a quiet, disinterested electorate. I don’t think voter apathy will occur this year.