The Electoral College: How does it work?
What is the Electoral College?
The Electoral College, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), is not a place, it is a process that began as part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution. The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote. The people of the United States vote for the electors who then vote for the President. Read more about how the terms “Elector” and “Electoral College” came into usage.
How Many Votes do States Get?
Each State is allocated a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives. The number of electors for a State is based on the number of members in the House of Representatives who represent the State, plus two for the State’s Senators. A State’s Congressional delegation is determined by the State’s population.
The number of people in each State is determined by the Federal census, which is taken every ten years and includes a count of every State’s population.
270. In the early days of the United States, this number periodically increase as the number of states and population grew (e.g. George Washington won his first election in 1789 with a unanimous 69 electoral votes). The number of electoral college members is set by the number of US House Representatives (set at 435 seats since 1911), the number of US Senators (2 per state = 100), plus 3 votes for Washington DC. The total size of the electoral college is thus 538. To achieve victory in the presidential election, a candidate must win half of the electoral college (269) plus one vote, else the election is decided by the incoming House of Representatives. In this case, each state is allotted one vote, and the House must then choose the president among the top three candidates recipients of electoral votes
Who Selects the Electors?
The process for selecting electors varies throughout the United States. Generally, the political parties nominate electors at their State party conventions or by a vote of the party’s central committee in each State.
Electors are often selected to recognize their service and dedication to their political party. They may be State-elected officials, party leaders, or persons who have a personal or political affiliation with the Presidential candidate.
Then the voters in each State choose the electors on the day of the general election. The electors’ names may or may not appear on the ballot below the name of the candidates running for President, depending on the procedure in each State.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How did the terms “Elector” and “Electoral College” come into usage?
- How does the Electoral College elect the president?
- How does the Electoral College process work in my State?
- Can citizens in U.S. Territories vote for President?
- Is my vote for President and Vice President meaningful in the Electoral College system?
- Why do we still have the Electoral College?
- What Federal laws govern the Electoral College system?
- What proposals have been made to change the Electoral College system?
- Were any measures introduced in Congress to change the Electoral College process by amending the Constitution?
- What happens if no presidential candidate gets 270 electoral votes?
- What impact does a candidate’s concession speech have on the Electoral College process?
- How do the 538 electoral votes get divided among the States?
- There are 538 members of the Electoral College. How could that number change without amending the Constitution?
- What is the difference between the Winner-Takes-All Rule and Proportional Voting, and which States follow which rule?
- How is it possible for the electoral vote to produce a different result than the nation-wide popular vote?
- What would happen if two candidates tied in a State’s popular vote, or if there was a dispute as to the winner?
- What is the difference between Colorado’s proposal to proportionally allocate electoral votes and the current way that Nebraska and Maine proportionally allocate electoral votes?
- Who selects the electors?
- What are the qualifications to be an elector?
- Must electors vote for the candidate who won their State’s popular vote?
- Where do I find the names of the 2004 Presidential electors?
- May I attend the meeting of my State’s electors to watch them vote?
- How can I check the county by county results of the Presidential election in Ohio?
- Is there an online source listing the names and voting records of presidential electors for all previous presidential elections back to 1789?
- How many times has the Vice President been chosen by the U.S. Senate?
How did the terms “Elector” and “Electoral College” come into usage?
The term “electoral college” does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to “electors,” but not to the “electoral college.” In the Federalist Papers (No. 68), Alexander Hamilton refers to the process of selecting the Executive, and refers to “the people of each State (who) shall choose a number of persons as electors,” but he does not use the term “electoral college.”
The founders appropriated the concept of electors from the Holy Roman Empire (962 – 1806). An elector was one of a number of princes of the various German states within the Holy Roman Empire who had a right to participate in the election of the German king (who generally was crowned as emperor). The term “college” (from the Latin collegium), refers to a body of persons that act as a unit, as in the college of cardinals who advise the Pope and vote in papal elections. In the early 1800’s, the term “electoral college” came into general usage as the unofficial designation for the group of citizens selected to cast votes for President and Vice President. It was first written into Federal law in 1845, and today the term appears in 3 U.S.C. section 4, in the section heading and in the text as “college of electors.”
Who selects the Electors?
The process for selecting electors varies throughout the United States. Generally, the political parties nominate electors at their State party conventions or by a vote of the party’s central committee in each State. Electors are often selected to recognize their service and dedication to their political party. They may be State elected officials, party leaders, or persons who have a personal or political affiliation with the Presidential candidate. Then the voters in each State choose the electors on the day of the general election. The electors’ names may or may not appear on the ballot below the name of the candidates running for President, depending on the procedure in each State.
What are the qualifications to be an elector?
The U.S. Constitution contains very few provisions relating to the qualifications of electors. Article II, section 1, clause 2 provides that no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector. As a historical matter, the 14th Amendment provides that State officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies are disqualified from serving as electors. This prohibition relates to the post-Civil War era.