Quantcast
Connect with us

How is the president elected? Here is a basic guide to the electoral college system

Published

on

Just how democratic is the election for an American president?

You might think that the person who receives the most votes wins, right?

Wrong.

Just ask Al Gore, who in 2000 won more than half-a-million votes more than the “winner”, George W. Bush.

In fact, on four occasions in American history (1824, 1876, 1888, and 2000), the winner of the presidential election actually received fewer votes than their opponent.

ADVERTISEMENT

This is because, contrary to popular belief, voters do not actually elect the president.

Voters are merely indicating a preference for president, but the task of actually electing the president falls to 538 individual electors to the US Electoral College.

What is the Electoral College?

To put it simply, each state is assigned a number of electors to the Electoral College, based on that state’s delegation to the United States Congress.

There are 50 states.

ADVERTISEMENT

Each state has two members of the US Senate, so there are 100 senators.

There are 435 members of the US House of Representatives, who are appointed by state on the basis of population, with each state having a minimum of one.

Therefore, the least populous states, such as Alaska and Wyoming, send three members to Congress – two senators and one representative. Conversely, the most populous state, California, sends two senators and 53 representatives, for a total of 55.

ADVERTISEMENT

California’s vote in the Electoral College is therefore 55.

This means that all 50 states send a total of 535 members to Congress.

In addition, the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), sends one non-voting member to the House of Representatives (hence the slogan, “taxation without representation”), but no senators. However, when it comes to the Electoral College, D.C. is afforded the same number of votes as the smallest state – three.

ADVERTISEMENT

The total votes in the Electoral College is therefore 538.

To win the presidency, a candidate needs an absolute majority vote in the Electoral College, which is half plus one, or 270. This is why you will hear a lot about the magic number “270” on Election Day.

If no one wins an absolute majority of the Electoral College, then the election is decided by a vote in the US House of Representatives, which has occurred on just one occasion (1824).

ADVERTISEMENT

Electoral College “electors” are not usually members of Congress. Depending on the state, “electors” are elected by voters or state legislatures, or they are appointed.

Election day voting

Forty-eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have a winner-takes-all approach to their Electoral College votes. This means that on election day, if Hillary Clinton wins the popular vote in California by a single vote, she wins all of California’s 55 Electoral College votes.

It therefore does not matter by how many votes Clinton or Trump win in each state, as long as they win more than the next person. A majority vote is not required, as the winner of the popular vote for each state by a plurality will win all of the electoral college votes.

There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska.

ADVERTISEMENT

These two states award some of their electoral college votes on the basis of congressional district.

For example, Maine has two members of the House of Representatives, plus two senators, therefore it has four electoral college votes. One vote is awarded to whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes in each of the two congressional districts. The state’s two “senatorial” votes are then awarded to whoever wins the most votes overall in the state. This is why in 2008, Barack Obama won a single vote from Nebraska, because he won one of Nebraska’s three districts, while John McCain won the other two, and the state.

Confused? If you have made it this far, then you are almost an expert! Well done.

Long before election day, we know how most of the states will vote. For example, we know that Alabama will vote for Trump, and we know that Rhode Island will vote for Clinton. In fact, we already know what the result will be in approximately 40 states.

ADVERTISEMENT

So candidates focus their campaigns on the remaining 10 states in which the outcome is less certain. These states comprise the so-called “swing” states, such as Florida, Ohio, Nevada, Virginia, and Colorado, plus a few others, like North Carolina, Missouri, and Indiana.

In the final two weeks before election day, it is these swing states that will receive all the attention from candidates.

So a presidential candidate is not aiming to win the popular vote across the country. They are not aiming to win all 50 states (although several have come close, such as Richard Nixon in 1972, and Ronald Reagan in 1984, each of whom won 49 states). A presidential candidate is aiming to win a majority of the Electoral College, in whatever shape that takes.

In 2012, Mitt Romney won 24 of 50 states (48%), and 47.2% of the national popular vote, but only won 38% of the electoral college vote.

When they devised the Constitution, the founding fathers did not believe that voters could be trusted to make the correct decision when voting. So the electoral college was conceived as a fail-safe. At the time, no voter in the electoral college was required to vote according to the result on election day. In 2016, there are 21 states that still do not require “electors” to adhere to the wishes of voters, but that is a whole other article.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Conversation

By Bryan Cranston, Online Lecturer in Politics, and PhD Candidate in Politics and History, Swinburne University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ADVERTISEMENT

Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
READ COMMENTS - JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Continue Reading

Elections 2016

Modi tells Xi summit will launch ‘new era’ for India and China

Published

on

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Saturday that his summit with Chinese leader Xi Xinping would launch a "new era" between the neighbours who are seeking to overcome troublesome differences.

Modi and Xi strolled along a pristine Bay of Bengal beach and held one-on-one talks overlooking the ocean before their delegations sat down to official negotiations at the historic resort town of Mahbalipuram, south of Chennai.

The two leaders are meeting for the second time in a year in a bid to ease tensions over border disputes, the troubled Kashmir region and China's domination of trade between their huge economies.

Continue Reading

Breaking Banner

Trump calls for impeachment of Mitt Romney for criticizing him in rambling tweet

Published

on

Hours after Donald Trump attacked Sen. Mitt Romney for being critical of his call for the Chinese to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, the president was back for another round, calling for the Utah Republiocan to be impeached.

Claiming without evidence that voters in Utah are turning on their senator, Trump claimed, "I’m hearing that the Great People of Utah are considering their vote for their Pompous Senator, Mitt Romney, to be a big mistake. I agree! He is a fool who is playing right into the hands of the Do Nothing Democrats!" followed by:  #IMPEACHMITTROMNEY

Continue Reading
 

Elections 2016

Trump claimed ‘inequality is down’ — one day later federal data showed the exact opposite is true

Published

on

"The separation between rich and poor from 2017 and 2018 was greater than it has ever been."

Federal data released Thursday showed U.S. income inequality in 2018 reached the highest level since the Census Bureau began measuring it five decades ago, a finding that comes less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump said "inequality is down."

Continue Reading
 
 
Help Raw Story Uncover Injustice. Join Raw Story Investigates for $1 and go ad-free.
close-image