When the founding fathers of the United States were writing the Constitution, they had to decide how the President would be elected. Some people wanted the President to be elected by a vote in Congress. Some favored election by governors of the states or state legislatures or by a select group of members of Congress chosen by lot. Others wanted the President to be elected by popular vote.
Eventually, the matter was referred to a Committee of Eleven. Their plan was adopted basically as they wrote it. They proposed an indirect election of the President by a group called the Electoral College. This method was a compromise. It wanted to give small states some participation with the 2 senatorial electors and allow for popular opinion also. Each elector cast two votes for President. Each had to be for as different candidate. They cast no vote for Vice-President. The candidate who received the most votes became President. The man who received the next most votes became Vice-President. In 1804, the 12th Amendment made some changes and replaced this system with separate ballots for President and Vice President, with electors casting a single vote for each office.
The first step in the Presidential election process is for each state to choose electors. Each state may have a number equal to the total number of senators and representatives in their state. In addition, the District of Columbia (Washington, D. C.) will have 3 electors. There will be a total of 538 electors in the Electoral College. A majority of the 270 electors must vote for a candidate to win the election as President of the United States.
Each of the candidates running for President in a state has electors which are usually chosen by his party, although some states have different rules. Most often, the state convention of the party chooses the electors. They might choose someone who has done service to the party in the past or has some close tie to the candidate. On election day, voters are casting their votes for electors, not a presidential candidate. In most states, the vote is 'winner-take-all'. That is, whatever candidate gets the most votes gets all the electoral votes from that state.
Nebraska and Maine have a different way of allotting electoral votes. The winning candidate gets 2 votes. Then each candidate gets 1 vote from any Congressional district that he wins. Some states require that the electors vote for the candidate with the highest popular vote. Some electors are pledged and some are not. Some could give their vote to the other candidate. Almost 100% of the time, the electors give their votes to the top candidate in their state.
The election for president occurs on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The governor of each state makes up a 'Letter of Ascertainment.' This document lists candidates who ran for the election in the state along with the names of their electors.
The electors in each state meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December. They meet in their own state and cast their votes separately for President and Vice-President. Each state's votes are recorded on a 'Certificate of Vote.' A copy of the certificate is sent to Congress and to the National Archives which stores all permanent records. The House of Representatives and the Senate meet on January 6 of the next year to count the votes. Whichever candidate gets a majority of the votes is announced to be the winner by the Vice-President who is also the President of the Senate.
If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the President is elected by the House of Representatives, and the Senate elects the Vice-President.
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