I e-mailed my dad about the electoral college and the popular vote in the 2000 Presidential election, and wow, we know where i get my habit of lengthy, well-researched answers from, huh?
Quick answer: the popular vote total would have absolutely no official effect.Also, i told him about on isis_grey's statement that "I think, once upon a time, the EC could have been a good thing. Ya know, back when people were scattered across the countryside with no real means to see/learn who was running for election, they had a representative (hopefully and honest one) cast their vote for them. Now, it is just silly." and he sent the following:
Longer answer: Originally, the idea was that people in each state would vote for "wise men" who would then meet (in the state) and discuss and decide who should be president. These "electors" would then send the results to Washington. I'm not sure when they began to be referred to as the "electoral college." I can't find that term in the Constitution itself.
But very quickly, the electors declared their preference before the election. They would even "pledge" to vote for a particular candidate at the electoral college. So in just about every state, you wound up choosing between a few "slates" of electors who were pledged to vote for a particular candidate. Usually, the ballot doesn't even list the electors' names, only who they are pledged to.
Now, this pledge is, as far as I know, not legally binding. And there are cases where an elector has voted for someone other than the person s/he was supposedly pledged to--though this has never affected an election outcome. This is rare because the people chosen to be on each slate are usually loyalists who would not be tempted to vote against their pledge.
It is possible that an elector could say, "Though I am on X's slate in this state, I see that Y has gotten the most votes nationally, and I think that the person who gets the most votes nationally should win so I am voting for Y." No doubt there would then be a law suit.
The Constitution doesn't say much about the process. And it can be a little confusing because the original process in Article II, Section 1 was soon amended by the 12th Amendment (after the Thomas Jefferson/John Adams/Aaron Burr fiasco), and then by the 20th and 25th (though the latter aren't relevant to this question).
Anyway, the relevant passages are:Article II, Section 1
Each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or person holding an office of trust or profit under the United States, shall be appointed an elector.
The Congress may determine the time of choosing the electors, and the day on which they shall give their votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States.
The electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;--The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted;--the person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of electors appointed;
[this next portion only applies if nobody gets a majority of the "electoral votes" RAS] and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice....
On Friday, March 14, 1788 "Publius" (in this case Alexander Hamilton) published The Federalist No. 68 in the New York Packet. The whole Federalist series was an attempt to convince people to ratify the new Constitution. This one is about how the president and vice-president will be elected and why it will be such a great process.
It's as if Hamilton was thinking of isis_grey when he wrote this:
"It was desirable that the sense of the people should operate in the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided [i.e., the president]. This end will be answered by committing the right of making it, not to any pre-existing body, but to men chosen by the people for the special purpose, and at the particular conjuncture.
"It was equally desirable, that the immediate election [i.e., the one directly for president] should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under curcumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations."