The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Abolish the electoral college? Dream on, Democrats.

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton votes at Douglas G. Griffin School November 8, 2016 in Chappaqua, N.Y. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Update: Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), as she has before, introduced a bill this week to get rid of the electoral college. In the below post from the wee hours of the day after Election Day, we discuss why it's not happening.

For the second time in 16 years, Democrats appear to have won more votes than Republicans, but lost the presidency. And while it was close in 2000, it may be a chasm in 2016.

Our own Philip Bump recapped how this happened last night. And as we get more numbers in, it's looking very likely Trump will indeed have lost the popular vote.

But the electoral vote may be a landslide in the other direction. If Trump wins every state left -- Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Michigan and New Hampshire -- he could even win by more than 100 electoral votes, 320-218. Take Minnesota away, and it's still 310-228 -- a very big margin.

So you can bet that are a whole bunch of Democrats right now that would like to put an end to this whole electoral college thing.

The bad news: They have virtually no power to make that happen -- and even they did have any power, it'd be immensely difficult.

The electoral college, after all, is enshrined in our Constitution, which means getting rid of it requires a constitutional amendment. That's a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate and the ratification of three-fourths (38) of the 50 states.

Democrats not only lost the presidency on Tuesday; they failed to win a majority in the Senate and didn't gain as much ground in the House as they had hoped. The idea that this would even be brought up in a GOP-controlled Congress -- much less approved with a two-thirds majority in both chambers -- just isn't in the cards. And even if it passed that congressional threshold, 38 states aren't going to ratify it. Red states won't like the idea because it's been a perceived boon to Republicans, and swing states won't like it because it means they lose their prized status in the presidential campaign.

Such efforts have also been tried -- unsuccessfully, of course -- several times before.

Back in 1934, a vote to abolish the electoral college failed in the Senate by just two votes. At the time, then-Sen. Alben Barkley (D-Ky.), who would later become vice president, labeled the system "useless." "The American people are qualified to elect their president by a direct vote, and I hope to see the day when they will," he said.

By 1966, Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) led hearings on the prospect of repealing the electoral college. He was a passionate advocate for the change for years. In 1979, the Senate debated a direct-election alternative, but it failed 51-48 -- shy of the two-thirds it needed.

More recent efforts have focused on workarounds, rather than repeal. The National Popular Vote interstate compact has been assembling states who pledge to award all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national vote if and when they all combine for a majority of electoral votes (270). The effort has gained support from 11 states combining for 165 electoral votes, but so far only blue states have jumped on-board -- suggesting the red and swing state problems described above apply here too.

Most recently, efforts to undermine it state-by-state have sprung up -- among Republicans, no less. There were movements in the Pennsylvania and Virginia Republican parties earlier this decade to award their state's electoral votes to the winner of each congressional district -- a change that would have been beneficial to the GOP, assuming they lost those states. (Trump, of course, won Pennsylvania on Tuesday anyways.)

What's interesting is that this wasn't just a power grab by the GOP; it was in response to real concern about how the electoral college worked against them. And you needn't look far on this blog for theories about how the electoral college was indeed supposed to help Democrats these days.

On Tuesday, it clearly didn't.

About the only hope for Democrats to truly force the issue is to launch a national campaign that makes the case that this arrangement isn't right -- that two elections in 16 years going to the candidate with fewer votes just isn't what this country is all about.

There is evidence this message has national appeal. Gallup polling in 1948 showed 56 percent thought it should be discontinued. In 1967, 58 percent favored repeal. The following year, it was up to 80 percent. But it didn't happen.

And if that 80 percent support in a different era wasn't enough to effect the change, you can bet it's going nowhere in this highly partisan age.