Before 2016, there had only been four times in history when the U.S. presidential winner lost the popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and George W. Bush in 2000.* Bush’s win against former Vice President Al Gore sparked nationwide confusion and a Supreme Court case that stopped a state-ordered recount in Florida, declaring Bush the winner of the state’s 25 electoral votes. Gore, who secured 543,895 more votes than Bush nationwide, lost the electoral vote 271–266.
When the 2004 election came around, Allan Keiter said, “I was just kind of interested in the topic and was looking for a kind of a map or something online to play around with Electoral College, and I couldn’t find one.” So the Columbia Business School graduate and entrepreneur set out to create one himself. That was the birth of 270toWin.
270toWin allows users to create their own election forecast. You can click on each state to change its outcome, labeling it “safe,” “likely,” or “leans” with a corresponding red or blue shade. In addition, you can leave states as “toss-ups,” leaving them in a brown shade, to see if a candidate has 270 electoral votes without them.
Keiter told me Thursday that 270toWin had been steadily growing since its creation in 2004, but it wasn’t until June 2015 that the small team behind the site saw a substantial increase in internet traffic—the same time Donald Trump announced his presidential bid. On election night 2016, as states expected to go to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started to go to Donald Trump, watchers flocked to the site to try to determine paths to victory for their preferred candidates. Demand got so high that not everyone could access the site or certain content.
“We definitely had our best traffic day, and we sort of became the go-to site for people who wanted to create and share their own forecasts,” Keiter said. “It’s a little bit of a niche, but it’s our niche, I guess.”
In 2016, we saw an even bigger disparity between the Electoral College and popular vote than in 2000. Despite Clinton winning the popular vote by more than 2.8 million, Trump secured the electoral vote 304–227. The election ignited debate on whether to abolish the Electoral College, and also led people to a greater interest in fixating on possible electoral paths to victory.
Since then, the 270toWin team has implemented a variety of new interactive content and features, including a mobile version of the site, a delegate calculator for tracking the Democratic primary, and “The Road to 270” series, a weekly column leading up to the presidential election that explains one state’s political landscape and how that might influence which party will win its electoral votes. It highlights details such as past presidential voting history, current members of Congress, and where the state leans politically.
On Tuesday, the site will be braced for a spike in traffic. There will also be live updates on raw vote counts of not only the presidential election, but House and Senate elections as well. However, with critical swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio not starting to count its ballots until polls close, final results may not be available on election night.
“We are excited about having more traffic than ever. But also, we’re all scared about that,” Keiter said. “The big unknown is how long it takes to get the results. This time, we’ve got a sort of a unique situation where people are a lot of people are voting by mail.”
Keiter said the team is always looking to improve the site and they have plans for the future. “Usually each election kind of gives us some new ideas about what to do for the next one,” Keiter said. With the 2020 Census count ending in October, some states will see an increase or decrease in population size, leading to a change in House seats and newly drawn congressional districts. Because of this, the site will have to create a new electoral map for 2024’s presidential election. Although there’s a list of potential implementations for the site, the election currently is the team’s No. 1 priority.
It’s safe to say that Tuesday, a large spike of people across the nation will turn to the website in hopes of foreseeing who will be crowned the president at the end of the night (or, you know, in several weeks).
But 270towin.com isn’t all work and no play. On Twitter, many are sharing their 270towin.com forecasts for what the final map might look like—while others are just goofing around.
Correction, Nov. 4, 2020: This article originally misstated who lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College in 1824. It was John Quincy Adams, not Andrew Jackson.