The Electoral College – how does it work?


Grayson Joslin, Editor

The race to 270.

It is the aim of the presidential candidates on election day. If a candidate wins 270 votes in the Electoral College, then they are President-elect of the United States and they will be inaugurated the following January. The election of a President in the United States is different then other elections around the globe, and even the country. The United States uses the Electoral College, which is the collection of 538 votes spread out across the 50 states and Washington D.C. This system disregards national voting and instead focuses on the voting in each state.

One might ask, how did we end up with this system of voting?

During the Constitutional Convention of 1787 the men were tasked at first to make edits to the Articles of Confederation, but then they decided to make a new governing document – the Constitution. During the drafting of the Constitution, some of the framers did not want the uneducated farmers of the sparsely populated country to be casting their ballots for candidates they would not know much about. They wanted Congress to elect the President. There was also another group of men who didn’t want Congress to choose the head of state, fearing that they would overreach their powers.

Thus, the system known as the Electoral College was created. Each state is given a set number of votes. This would be determined by the the state’s number of Senators and Representatives in Congress. For example, Massachusetts has 9 Representatives and 2 Senators. Therefore, Massachusetts has 11 votes in the Electoral College. Washington, D.C. got representation in the Electoral College even though it is not a state through the Twenty-third Amendment, giving the federal district 3 electoral votes.

In most states, a candidate who wins the most votes takes all of the Electoral College votes for that state. This is not the case for Maine and Nebraska. These two states give two of their electoral votes in the winner-take-all method that the other states use, but the other votes are given based on the winners in each congressional district. Therefore, Nebraska could end up with 4 Republican votes and 1 Democrat vote in the Electoral College.

Contrary to popular belief, the election is not officially decided on Election Day. The Electoral College meets in mid-December to officially cast the votes for President. The electors themselves cannot hold any public office in the United States. After the official votes are counted, then they are sent to Congress. In the first week on January, Congress certifies the votes in the Electoral College to officially declare the winner of the election.

What happens in the event of a tie or where no candidate can get a majority of the votes in the Electoral College? The election then gets sent to the House of Representatives in this scenario to choose the President. The top three candidates will be put on the ballot. The state representatives come together and they vote as a single entity. A candidate needs to win 26 state’s support in order to win the election. The Senate picks the Vice President independently from the Presidential vote, which leads to a scenario where the President and Vice President are from different political parties.

The Electoral College is a unique electoral procedure that is used to choose the most powerful person in the United States. Even though it can be very divisive and controversial, it makes the process of electing the President extraordinary.