The founding fathers saw the Electoral College as a tool in balancing federalism with the rights of the people in individual states.
It's not the total popular vote that elects a U.S. president. Each state holds an election, with the winner in the state, whether by one vote or 1 million, getting all of a state's electoral votes – except in Nebraska and Maine. The number of electoral votes is based on the total of a state's U.S. senators and congressmen.
The system is designed to prevent a nationalization of the government, giving to each state a measure of power in electing the president. In a raw count of total votes, larger states would literally get all the attention -- during elections and between them.
Challenges to the system are not new but have picked up steam since two elections in the 21st century have produced a president who did not win the total national popular vote.
But that does not mean the system is broken. In American history, only five times has the candidate with fewer overall votes become president.
Republican Donald Trump won in 2016 after losing the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In 2000, Republican George W. Bush won the Electoral College, despite collecting fewer votes than Democrat Al Gore.
The other three cases occurred in the 1800s when John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison all became president after losing the popular vote.
Challengers argue the practice of assigning all of a state's Electoral College votes to the winner of a state's popular vote disenfranchises those who voted for the losing candidate and puts too much weight in the votes of those who live in a few key battleground states.
In December, a federal judge rejected a challenge to Massachusetts' system of awarding all electoral votes to the winner in that state, stating the practice does not violate "one man, one vote."
The case is one of several spearheaded by the onetime lawyer for Gore, David Boies, and others targeting the winner-take-all system. Electoral College opponents hope to get the constitutionality question before the U.S. Supreme Court. Other cases are in California, Texas and South Carolina.
The California case was dismissed in September, and lawyers have appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The cases in Texas and South Carolina are still pending.
The cases are occurring against the backdrop of a stalled national effort
called the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, in which states agreed to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote. But for the compact to kick in, states with a combined 270 votes needed to agree to join — and, so far, just 12 states with 172 electoral votes have signed the compact.
Supporters of the Electoral College should side with the effort to push the question of how the president is to be elected to the Supreme Court, which we believe would side with the founding fathers and the Constitution. Allowing states -- including Maine and Nebraska already -- to make revisions to the winner-take-all system, potentially sabotaging the Electoral College in a hodge podge of ways, is unacceptable -- and unconstitutional.
Chief U.S. District Judge Patti Saris was correct in the Massachusetts ruling in stating that the Electoral College is constitutional because it doesn't treat any set of voters differently from another.
"In short, this system complies with equal protection because it does not inherently favor or disfavor a particular group of voters."