What if Obama loses the electoral vote but wins the popular vote?
Grover Cleveland quietly vacated the White House without protest, confirming his reputation as a leader of unassailable integrity and profound humility. Would this happen in 2012? Would President Obama attempt to calm angry spirits of his partisans on Nov. 7 were the results to show a “split decision?”
It’s easy to imagine the national levels of rage, and impossible not to envision the president of the United States lending his voice to the angry chorus. In the five weeks before Dec. 17, the day when electors formally assemble in their respective state capitals, the president could push electors to shift support to him—even if they defied state legislation requiring winner-take-all distribution of electoral votes to the victor in that state and ignored laws of 24 states threatening punishment to “faithless electors.” The arguments would be fiery and, most likely, somewhat effective: insisting that basic fairness and democratic principle should trump any concern over the creaky, 19th-century relic known as the Electoral College.
Obama might even consider the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Between 2007 and 2011, eight deeply partisan Democratic states (Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, Vermont, and California) and the District of Columbia enacted legislation demanding that their electors cast their votes for the winner of the national popular vote, regardless of which candidate won the state. This provision would only take effect if enough states agreed to this compact to represent a majority of all electoral votes; in an emergency, Democrats might attempt to coerce the five wavering states they need to take action in time to make a difference.