President Donald Trump and his allies have suggested that the system is only fair if a winner is declared on election night, but it is a horrible misreading of the US Constitution and US law, both of which make it clear that the technical process of choosing a president is only to get started on election day.
The system is particularly confusing because voters only vote to determine which candidate should send a hand-picked group of allies known as voters to the Electoral College where the current presidential vote takes place. (Here’s an update on that.)
Americans have been refining the process since the 1
800 election, which originally resulted in an election college. The House of Representatives chaired Thomas Jefferson, and the first controversial election resulted in the 12th Amendment, which changed the process of the Electoral College.
Later, in 1824, John Quincy Adams came to the White House despite not winning the popular vote or a majority in Electoral College.
In 1876, the results in several southern states were disputed, and the lack of clear election college results led to an agreement in the House that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency, even though he won neither the Electoral College nor the popular vote. It eventually ended with the 1887 Election Act, which is still in force today.
The full timeline is below.