It’s as real-time a lesson in American democracy as you could imagine: For the second time in the last five presidential elections, the candidate who won the most electoral votes is not the candidate who won the popular vote.

When it’s all said and done, President-elect Donald Trump likely will emerge from last week’s election with 306 electoral votes – well above the 270 needed to move into the White House.

At the same time, as of Saturday afternoon Hillary Clinton claimed more than 60.8 million popular votes – nearly 600,000 more than Trump.

Cue the perennial debate over the Electoral College.

“Oh, all the time,” replied Colby College professor Sandy Maisel when asked Friday if the electoral-popular disconnect has dominated discussion in his politics classes since Tuesday’s shocker of an election. “The kids are all over it.”

They’re far from alone.

“The Electoral College Was Designed to Prevent Trump. You Can Make This Happen,” proclaimed a headline on The Huffington Post on Friday. The attached blog exhorted disgruntled Clinton voters to pressure their states’ electors to go “faithless” when they cast their presidential votes on Dec. 19 and summarily snatch Trump’s victory away from him while there’s still time.

Also known as a pipe dream.

The blog’s author, Douglas Anthony Cooper, bases his dump-Trump claim on a quote from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote in the Federalist Papers that under the Electoral College, “the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

But alas, Cooper is cherry-picking. In the very next sentence, Hamilton says, “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.”

A quick scan of the electoral map shows that Trump’s popularity, while not reflective of “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” undoubtedly extends far beyond that of the single-state rube envisioned by Hamilton.

Which brings us to the real intent behind the Electoral College: To ensure that small-population states, like Maine, do not surrender any and all influence over the presidential election to big-population states, like New York or California.

How so? By allocating electoral votes based on the size of each state’s congressional delegation – including the two Senate seats each state holds regardless of its population size.

Thus a single voter in Maine, where four electors represent a population of 1.3 million, enjoys more than twice as much influence over the election than an individual voter in California, where 55 electors represent a population of 38.8 million.

Add to that the fact that Maine, along with Nebraska, splits two of its electoral votes by congressional district and you get last week’s outcome here: Voters in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District awarded a single electoral vote for Trump, while voters in the 1st Congressional District did likewise for Clinton.

Maine’s other two electoral votes, representing the statewide winner, went to Clinton.

Back we go to Maisel’s classroom, where many students last week still had trouble getting their heads around the fact that for the fifth time in U.S. history – and the second time in the last five presidential elections (see Bush vs. Gore) – the president-elect did not win the national popular vote.

What does Maisel, who chairs Colby’s government department, tell these inquiring young minds?

“I talk a lot about the fact that democracy means rule of the people,” he said.

“It doesn’t mean necessarily any particular set of electoral rules.”

He also talks about what it would take to do away with the Electoral College: a constitutional amendment approved first by two-thirds majorities in both chambers of Congress and then ratified by three-quarters of the country’s state legislatures.

“The consensus (in his classes) is to change it,” Maisel said. “But they don’t go to the next step of how to do it. They just go to the straight popular vote.”

Constitutional hurdles aside, even a straight popular vote would face its own challenges in an election as close as last week’s.

“We’d have to have a recount, because (Clinton’s) margin is like one or two votes per precinct,” noted Maisel. “Until we get to all computerized voting and feel that’s secure, is (election by popular vote) necessarily better?”

Then there’s the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, under which participating states would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of how each state voted.

Ten states, with a cumulative 165 electoral votes, so far have signed onto the compact. It won’t become effective, however, until it encompasses enough states to award at least 270 electoral votes – the majority needed to elect a president.

Maine has not joined the compact. But California, with its whopping 55 electoral votes, has.

Now imagine for a moment you’re from California and your presidential candidate wins the state in a landslide. Yet at the same time, the other candidate ekes out a plurality of the national vote.

So what happens under the compact? All of California’s 55 electoral votes go to the candidate who just got trounced in California.

Tell us, California voter, how’s that going to make you feel?

“I have sort of a fundamental disagreement with a major reform of our system done purposely in a way to avoid what the Constitution says,” said Maisel. “And that’s precisely what (the compact) is.”

When it comes to fairness, Maisel thinks Maine actually does it better than most. By splitting its electoral votes 3-to-1 for the first time since 1828 (of Maine’s nine electoral votes that year, eight went to John Quincy Adams and one went to the winner, Andrew Jackson), Trump supporters in the northern half of the state came away assured that their voices were heard.

That brings us to one last proposal being bandied about: Do away with the actual electors and award each state’s electoral votes in direct proportion, down to the nearest one-thousandth, to that state’s popular vote.

Meaning, based on Maine’s presidential breakdown in this election, 1.92 of our electoral votes would have gone to Clinton, 1.8 to Trump, 0.8 to Libertarian Gary Johnson and 0.08 to the Green Party’s Jill Stein.

“You get rid of the people who are electors. You just do it automatically,” Maisel said. “So that system, it seems to me, reflects the popular vote (while simultaneously) it gives a little bit more influence to the (smaller) state” like Maine.

It also eliminates the possibility of the “faithless elector” who, after pledging to vote for one candidate, abstains or switches at the last minute to another. Where, fellow citizens, is the democracy in that?

Last week, between digesting the election results and digressing with his bewildered students into the complexities of the Electoral College, Maisel sat down and banged out a blog for the Oxford University Press.

Unlike many in the last few days, he did not challenge the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s election.

Nor did he demand that the majority of electors, having pledged to cast their vote for Trump next month, now pull the rug out from under him because … why?

So what was his message?

“That the most important thing in this election was Hillary’s concession speech,” Maisel replied.

Class dismissed.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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