The Electoral College

The Electoral College is the process by which voters elect the president of the United States. When the Founding Fathers included the idea of the Electoral College in the Constitution, they did so thinking that it would be a good compromise between having Americans and Congress elect the president. Electors, who make up the Electoral College, are divided up across the 50 states and Washington, D.C. based on the number of members of the House of Representatives in addition to two for each senator. The number of votes each state and Washington, D.C. receives is based on the most recent U.S. Census.

There are 538 total electors in the Electoral College. To win the presidency, a candidate must win 270 electoral votes. Each state selects electoral votes differently but usually they are chosen by a candidate's political party. Voters tell their state's electors who to vote for by casting their ballots. In every state except Nebraska and Maine, if a presidential candidate wins the popular vote, then all of the state's electoral votes go to that candidate. The reason it is done this way is that back when the first government under the Constitution was created, the Founding Fathers were concerned that smaller states would have no voice in elections because their populations were too small. It was also more practical to send electors to do the voting because towns were more spread out.

In most cases, the winner of the popular vote, meaning the person who simply earns the most votes across the country, also wins the presidency. However, there have been four occasions when the candidate who won the most electoral votes did not win the popular vote. The last time this happened was in 2000 when Democrat Al Gore earned more total votes that Republican George Bush. When the Supreme Court stepped in to award Florida's electoral votes to Bush following confusion about that state's ballots, he won the presidency.


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