Hillary Clinton surpassed Donald Trump by more than 2 million votes, but lost the electoral college 306 to 232. In raw votes, it was the largest popular-vote lead in history for a candidate who lost the election. The nature of the results has again stirred up debate about the merits of using the electoral college system.

A state’s electoral votes are equal to the number of representatives and senators the state has in Congress. House seat apportionments are based on population and are reapportioned every decade after the census. Every state is guaranteed at least one seat in the House and two in the Senate.

The electoral college is supposed to guarantee that populous states can’t dominate an election, but it also sets up a disparity in representation. While California has one electoral vote per 712,000 people, Wyoming — the least populous state in the country — has one electoral vote per 195,000 people.

Population very underrepresented in 2016

Population slightly underrepresented

Population slightly overrepresented

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

Population very

underrepresented in 2016

Population slightly

underrepresented

Population slightly

overrepresented

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

TX

FL

HI

AK

How representation has changed over time

These charts show the difference between each state’s share of the national population and its share of votes in the electoral college since 1960. If the bars are above the line, the state has a greater share of electoral votes than it does population, meaning it is overrepresented. If the bars are below the line, the state is underrepresented.

With only 538 electoral votes to distribute, a perfect balance is difficult to achieve, but the closer the bars are to the center, the more accurately represented a state is.

OVERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral seats is

greater than share of population

1960

2016

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of population is greater

than share of electoral seats

ME

VT

NH

WI

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

OVERREPRESENTATION

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral seats is

greater than share of population

Share of population is greater

than share of electoral seats

1960

2016

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

Less populous states are overrepresented.

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

The most populous state, California is underrepresented.

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

OVERREPRESENTATION

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral seats is

greater than share of population

Share of population is greater

than share of electoral seats

ME

1960

2016

VT

NH

WI

Less populous states are overrepresented.

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

The most populous state, California is underrepresented.

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

In 2016, California was the most misrepresented in the electoral college. The state is home to 12 percent of Americans, but holds only 10 percent of electoral votes. Its share of the total U.S. population is 2 percentage points more than its share of electoral votes.

A similar pattern repeats in the country’s largest states.

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of population is greater

than share of electoral votes

California

Florida

Texas

New York

1960

2016

0

1

2

3 percentage points

California

Florida

Texas

New York

1960

2016

0

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of population is greater

than share of electoral votes

1

2

3 percentage points

California

Florida

Texas

New York

1960

2016

0

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of population

is greater than

share of electoral votes

1

2

3 percentage points

Since 1960, California has gained 23 electoral votes, the most of any state in this period. Even though the state’s population is still the most proportionately underrepresented in the electoral college, the state’s gain of electoral votes has kept the gap from growing much larger.

On the contrary, because each state must have at least three electoral votes, less populous states are overrepresented.

OVERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral votes is

greater than share of population

Wyoming

North Dakota

Alaska

D.C.

0.4 percentage points

0

1960

2016

OVERREPRESENTATION

Wyoming

North Dakota

Alaska

D.C.

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

0.4 percentage points

0

1960

2016

Wyoming

North Dakota

Alaska

District of Columbia

OVERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

0.4 percentage points

0

1960

2016

However, smaller states are still not as misrepresented as larger states.

But, population is not the same as votes cast

While the electoral college is based on population, only a fraction of that population is eligible to vote — and even a smaller portion actually votes.

Votes cast very underrepresented in 2016

Votes cast slightly underrepresented

Votes cast slightly overrepresented

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

HI

AK

TX

FL

Votes cast very

underrepresented in 2016

Votes cast slightly

underrepresented

Votes cast slightly

overrepresented

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

DC

OK

LA

MS

AL

GA

TX

FL

HI

AK

In some states, the gap between the share of total votes cast and the share of total electoral votes presents an interesting pattern, particularly in Southern states.

Historically, votes cast in Southern states are more overrepresented than their populations.

Before the Voting Rights Act in 1965, voter turnout was low because black voters were systematically disenfranchised. Therefore, the number of votes cast in those states represented a smaller proportion of the populations compared with other states. In 1960, less than 14 percent of Mississippi’s population voted, compared with Minnesota, where 45 percent of the state’s population voted.

Mississippi

OVERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of votes cast

Drop in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

1 percentage point

0.5

0

1960

2016

1960

2016

0.5

Minnesota

OVERREPRESENTATION

UNDERREPRESENTATION

Share of votes cast

is greater than

share of electoral votes

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

No change in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

1 percentage point

0.5

1960

2016

0

1960

2016

0.5

Mississippi

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of votes cast

Drop in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

1 percentage point

0.5

OVERREPRESENTATION

0

1960

2016

1960

2016

0.5

Minnesota

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

Share of votes cast

is greater than

share of electoral votes

No change in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

1 percentage point

0.5

OVERREPRESENTATION

1960

2016

0

1960

2016

UNDERREPRESENTATION

0.5

Mississippi

Minnesota

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of votes cast

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of population

Share of votes cast

is greater than

share of electoral votes

Drop in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

No change in

misrepresentation of votes cast after

Voting Rights Act

1 percentage point

0.5

OVERREPRESENTATION

0

1960

2016

1960

2016

UNDERREPRESENTATION

0.5

In Texas and Georgia, the population is underrepresented in the electoral college, yet votes cast are overrepresented.

Votes cast in Texas were the least representative of the state’s population from 2004 to 2012 compared with other states. This year, the state’s voting-eligible population was 64 percent of its total population, the lowest in the nation. Yet, Texas still has 38 electoral votes, the second most in the nation.

Texas

UNDERREPRESENTATION

OVERREPRESENTATION

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of votes cast

Share of population

is greater than

share of electoral votes

1 percentage point

1960

2016

0

1960

2016

1

Texas

Share of population

is greater than

share of electoral votes

Share of electoral votes

is greater than

share of votes cast

1 percentage point

OVERREPRESENTATION

1960

2016

0

1960

2016

UNDERREPRESENTATION

1

In April, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that drawing districts based on total population (as opposed to population of eligible voters) satisfied the “one person, one vote” principle in the Equal Protection Clause. The ruling left open the possibility that other methods of district apportionment not based on total population might be constitutional.

The electoral college isn't a perfect system, and with two of the past five presidential elections going to the candidate who didn't win the popular vote, calls to abolish the centuries-old system may get louder.

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