Recently, each state's members of the 538 who make up the Electoral College officially voted in their individual states their choices for president and vice president.
The votes were certified on Monday, Dec.14: Democrat Joe Biden 306 to Republican President Donald Trump's 232.
That caused Republican Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell to recognize on the Senate floor the next morning that Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden will indeed become president on Jan. 20.
"The electoral college has spoken," McConnell said, adding, "Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden."
That replaces the descriptive refuge of "former vice president," which many Republican office-holders have used, trying to stay on President Trump's "good side," wherever that is these days.
Trump still contends he won the election, but the process and results were rigged to make Biden seem the winner. He was not happy with McConnell's declaration.
He tweeted, chastising McConnell: "Mitch, 75,000,000 VOTES, a record for a sitting President (by a lot). Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!"
The electoral college has been a shifting puzzle since first constructed as part of setting up the United States near the end of the 18th century.
There was debate, back in those days of much slower communication, over whether the president and vice president should be chosen by direct popular election or by Congress. Concessions were made to curry favor with slave-owning Southern states (More about that in a future column.)
The result, in the American Way, was a compromise.
The states would each choose their members of what became known as the Electoral College – even though, while "electors" is mentioned in the Constitution, the word "college" is not.
Each state got one elector for each of their two senators and all their members of the House of Representatives. Texas currently has 38.
The most glaring problem with the process, particularly recently, is that the only Republicans initially elected so far in the 21st century – George W. Bush and Trump – lost the popular vote, but won the electoral vote.
Bush in 2000 lost the popular vote to Democrat Al Gore by 547,398 votes. But after a recount in Florida, and a 5-4 Supreme Court vote, Bush won the electoral vote, 271-266. Bush's 2004 victory, in which he won the popular vote as well as the Electoral College, was for re-election, not his initial election.
Trump in 2016 lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 2,868,721 votes or 2.1%, but he won the Electoral College, 306 to 232 – which Trump called "a landslide." (The actual recorded Electoral College count was 304-227, since seven "maverick" electors voted for someone other than they were supposed to).
Trump in 2020 failed to win re-election, losing the popular vote – this time by 7,059,741, or 5.4% – but also the Electoral College. Biden's 306-232 Electoral College victory exactly reversed the "landslide" numbers earned by Trump over Clinton in 2016 – which Trump had called "a landslide."
In 2020, perhaps ironically – or fittingly Biden's electoral college victory – 306 to 232 – exactly reversed the numbers earned by Trump's "landslide" over Clinton in 2016.
Since the electoral college system began, and the 12th amendment was added in 1804 on how to separate election of the president from the vice president, there have been more than 700 attempts to further alter or abolish it.
Public opinion polls a few decades ago routinely showed a majority of people wanted to get rid of the electoral college. A group has been working for a few years on a way to allow the actual popular vote to elect the president, without amending the constitution.
The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is pushed by a group calling itself "National Popular Vote."
It has been gathering states willing to pledge that if states with a total electoral votes of 270 or more sign up – the amount needed to win – all those states would cast all of their electoral votes for the popular vote winner.
So far, the group has signed up states with 196 electoral votes. It plans to continue to try to gather enough additional states to pass 270 before the 2024 presidential election.