What is the Electoral College and How Does it Affect the Voting Process?

The U.S. is mid-way through an election year that no one is likely to forget. With a host of colorful candidates and potential history-making outcomes for both democrats and republicans, many American’s are chomping at the bit to cast their vote for their favorite candidate.

But how does the voting process actually work? Many Americans have no idea.

An estimated one in three native-born Americans would fail the civil literacy test that immigrants must pass to gain citizenship. Meaning, a growing number of Americans have a frightening lack of understanding of both their freedoms and how the American government actually works.

So how does your vote for the next president of the United States get counted?

The U.S. uses a system called the Electoral College to determine the outcome of each presidential race.

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is a process, established by our founding fathers and laid out in the constitution. Often referred to as an “indirect election” process, the system was designed to provide equal footing for both densely populated states and smaller states during a presidential election. 

Instead of voting directly for a presidential candidate and tallying up the total number of votes cast nation-wide, the U.S. assigns each state a slate of electors, or party officials, who together make up the Electoral College.

How many electors does a state get and how are they selected?

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors. Each state is assigned a number of electors equal to the total number of senators and representatives the state has.

Political parties typically select these individuals either in their state party conventions or through appointment by their state party leaders, while it is most common for third parties and independent candidates to merely designate theirs. Once electors are selected, political parties in each state submit a list of the individuals to the state's chief election official.

How does the Electoral College work?

A candidate must win 270 electoral votes to be elected president. A state's electors are typically awarded to the party whose candidate wins the most popular votes in the state — so, in effect, when you vote, you are not voting as much for your candidate as you are your candidate’s party electors.

In most presidential elections, the candidate that wins the popular vote, will receive the majority of electoral votes. However, that is not always the case. When the time comes, some electors abstain from voting, or vote differently than they pledged to.  On this very rare occasion (only four times in our nation’s history), it is possible for a candidate to win the popular vote, but lose the election due to a lack of electoral votes or vice versa.  

Does my vote actually matter?

While there is debate over the merit of the Electoral College, the process was designed to ensure every American vote was counted in a meaningful way. The American people have the privilege of choosing their president. While the method may seem complicated, every vote counts. 

Published on April 06, 2016