Guide to the Electoral College

As we all learned in 2000, the winner of the popular vote isn’t necessarily the person elected president of the United States.  Article 2 of the Constitution and subsequent amendments spell out the responsibilities of the Electoral College as the body entrusted with picking the president.  Today, there are 538 electors, and a majority, 270, is required to win the office.  Thus, it is possible to lose the popular vote as President Bush did in 2000 and yet win the White House. 

In all states but Maine and Nebraska, the winner of the state’s popular vote receives all the electoral college votes from that state.  The number of electors allocated to each state is equal to the number of U.S. House members plus the 2 senators.  California has the largest block of 55 and single-member states such as Wyoming have 3.  In addition, the District of Columbia has 3 electoral votes. 

Each state determines how electors are chosen, certified, and how their names are presented on the ballot.  Electors are not required by federal law to vote for the winner of the state’s popular vote, but state political parties generally pick trustworthy individuals who will pledge their support to their nominee. 

Electors will meet, usually at the state capital, to vote for president and vice president following the election.  In modern times with swift communications, this is merely a formality required by the Constitution without much suspense. The sealed and certified results are then sent to the president of the U.S. Senate (the vice president of the United States) and to the Archivist of the U.S..  Then, the president of the Senate announces the results to Congress.

If no one receives 270 electoral college votes for president, the three highest vote recipients are presented to the U. S. House.  Each state’s delegation has one vote, and the majority of states (26) is needed to select a winner.  The Senate selects the vice president from the top two finishers, with each senator casting one vote.  A majority (51 if 100 are present and voting) is required.