Hillary Clinton holds a slim margin in the popular vote over Donald Trump with several left-leaning counties yet to be counted.
That likely will mean a scenario like in 2000 where Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George W. Bush because of the winner-take-all Electoral College system.
Expect to hear chatter in coming days about alternatives to the system, said Robert Shapiro, a political science professor at Columbia University.
“You’ll see the outcry to do away with the Electoral College, but I don’t see it having legs unless this would happen to a Republican candidate, because then both parties will have been affected,” Shapiro said.
Clinton has 59,786,125 votes as of Wednesday afternoon, or about 47.6% of the vote. Trump has 59,578,670 or 47.5% of the vote — a razor-thin margin.
In 2000, Gore took 48.4% of the popular vote to Bush’s 47.9%.
In the wake of that election, some floated a constitutional amendment to change the system. A more likely scenario, Shapiro said, could be changes at the state level.
“States decide how their electoral votes are decided, so there was a movement to pass state laws that allocate votes to the candidate that gets the popular vote in the nation,” Shapiro said. “That would avoid this situation of a split popular and electoral vote.”
Vote totals from Tuesday also indicate Trump could surpass the 2012 GOP vote for Romney — which could signal a resurgence of Republican voters. It could give Trump another line similar to his stump phrase about capturing more GOP primary votes than anyone on record.
In terms of total votes cast, about 124.5 million votes have been counted. That would fall well short of the 128.5 million cast in 2012 or 131 million in 2008.
Still, Trump claims to have targeted first-time voters and campaigned in disillusioned rural areas that otherwise may not have participated. That effect may reverberate this year because of the GOP will be in control of the White House, Congress and most likely will have a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
“The vote totals are significant in this era of close elections, polarized parties and the stakes getting higher,” Shapiro said. “You could have unified Republican government and eliminate the filibuster in the Senate if they really wanted to do that.”
Exit polls indicate about a tenth of the electorate were first-time voters. Of those, more sided with Clinton, 56% to 46%.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the popular vote was “an indication that Secretary Clinton's historic campaign succeeded in mobilizing tens of millions of Americans behind her vision and her candidacy.”
But he said no one at the White House would be using the popular vote to make excuses or question the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.
“Winning the popular vote is not what gets you the keys to the Oval Office. You've got to win the electoral vote. I know that everybody knew the rules going into the contest,” he said. “That is our system of democracy. And it's not perfect but it's a system that has served us very well.”