Explaining the Electoral College

By Ryan Abbasi

America: of the people, by the people. Right? Maybe not. Every election year, countless Americans head to the polls not knowing that they do not directly elect the leaders they so passionately vote for and defend. Instead of the popular vote, in which the ballots cast by the public decide the person in the highest office in the nation, the electoral college, a system in which the public indirectly elects 538 electors who then decide the president, reigns supreme.

When voters cast their ballots for the candidate of their choice every election year, they actually cast ballots that are tallied for each candidate by their respective state. In all states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the majority of the popular votes receives all electoral votes allotted to that state; the number of electoral votes allotted to each state corresponds to the number of congress members (senators and US representatives) in each state, and Washington D.C. is given three electoral votes. In all, there are 538 electors. Who are these electors which decide the President? The electors are people chosen by their respective parties, such as Democrats or Republicans, through varying processes in each state. 

While the actual electoral college members vote in mid-December, the winner is often projected on election night, as most electors vote for the winner of their state’s popular vote. Although the electors are not constitutionally required to vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote, many states have passed laws that require electors to do so. 

The candidates who win a majority of the 538 electoral votes, at least 270, win the election and become President-elects until their inaugurations. However, the candidates who win the popular vote do not always win the election, as candidates who lost the popular vote were elected by the college to be president in 2016, 2000, and three times in the 1800s. 

While the electoral college may not directly represent the people, the best way to ensure that your voice is heard and your candidate wins is to vote. You can register to vote at https://vote.gov/