Designated by the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is a compromise between Congress electing the president and a popular vote, as it falls somewhere in between the two. The reason for the somewhat complicated system we use dates back to the creation of the Constitution. Article II, Section I of the Constitution creates the basis for the electoral system, and designates the number of electoral votes awarded as “equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives” of each state. It also prohibits Senators, Representatives, and anyone holding an “Office of Trust or Profit” from becoming an elector.
|State Name||Number of Votes||State Name||Number of Votes|
|District of Columbia||3||North Dakota||3|
Electors are delegates from each state who pledge their vote in the Electoral College based on the popular votes in each district. The number of electoral votes each state has depends on its number of representatives in the House and Senate. Since each state has two Senators and at least one Representative, this means each state (and Washington DC) has a minimum of 3 electoral votes. There are currently a total of 538 electors divided among the states. The winning candidate must receive a majority of the electoral votes (270) in order to win.
Electors are chosen by their political parties to represent districts in each state. Political parties normally choose loyal members of their party to act as electors. The electoral votes are administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), an independent nonpartisan group.
Though electors are pledged to vote for a particular candidate, it is possible for an elector to vote for someone else, or refuse to vote entirely. They are called “Faithless Electors,” and many states have passed laws prohibiting this practice. There have been Faithless Electors in history, though it has never made any real effect on the outcome of the election. Electors have also historically refused to cast their votes as a form of political protest.
Winner-Take-All vs. Proportional Representation
Most states follow a winner-take-all model of distributing electoral votes, meaning the majority winner receives all of the state's electoral votes. Only two states, Maine and Nebraska, split some of their electoral votes according to the votes of each district. In each of these states, two of their electoral votes go to the overall winner, while the remaining votes go to the winner in each district. This system is called proportional representation, or the district-by-district model. Many argue that this system is more accurate and fair than the winner-take-all system.
After the electoral votes are decided, the Electoral College cast their votes for president, based on the votes of the public. On the designated date, usually in December following the election, the Electors from each state meet in the state capital to officially declare their votes. Usually, by this time, the public is already aware of the winner of the election.
The Presidential candidate that receives more than 270 electoral votes, or just over half of the total 538, is the winner.
If the candidate does not receive a majority, then as per the Twelfth Amendment, the House of Representatives will decide the winner, with each state receiving one vote. This has happened twice in history – in the 1801 election of Thomas Jefferson, and in 1825 for John Quincy Adams's election. In the first, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied in terms of electoral votes. Both were Republicans, and Aaron Burr was running for Vice President. The second race was between John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, and William H. Crawford.
United States Electoral College