Electoral college crash course

by Alahna Kindred

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is the body that decides the President and Vice-President of the United States. It is made up of 538 electors – three electors from the District of Columbia, 100 Senators and 435 Representatives.

Presidential candidates need 270 or more votes to win the Presidency. Every state has a different number of electoral votes, determined by population. For example, California has 55 votes, and Alaska has three.

Electoral college votes are “all or nothing.” For example, in Alaska if two electors vote for the Democratic candidate and one votes for the Republican candidate, then all three of the state’s electoral votes will go to the Democratic candidate. Nebraska and Maine are the only states that do not follow this rule.

How does the process work?

When voters cast their ballots, they are deciding which political party will send its electors to their state’s capitals to cast their vote. This happens in December, after the popular vote. After all 50 states submit their electoral votes Congress counts the votes, and whoever has the majority wins.

Who are they?

Electors are usually state-elected officials, people with a strong connection to the presidential candidates or party leaders. The process of how they are selected varies from state to state. However, in most cases, they are nominated at their state political party conventions.

Do the electors have to vote for their party’s candidates?

Absolutely not. There are no federal (national) laws that require the electors to vote for their party’s candidates. However, 26 states and Washington DC do have state laws that compel electors to vote for their party’s candidate if that candidate gets a majority of the popular vote. The remaining 24 states do not.

Has it happened before?

Yes, in 2000. Al Gore won the popular vote by 0.51 per cent and George W. Bush won the electoral vote 271 to 266.

What happens if neither candidate gets the 270 required votes?

If neither candidate secures a majority of electoral votes, it is then up to the House of Representatives. Each state casts one vote and whoever wins the majority, wins the election.

Why does this matter?

Proponents of this process believe that it gives states with smaller population sizes more representation than they would otherwise have, whereas critics believe this “indirect” process doesn’t represent the popular vote.

This system distinguishes the United States from other democratic systems where the candidate who gets the highest number of public votes wins.

What are “battleground states” and why do they matter?

Battleground states, or swing states, are states that have a history of “swinging” back and forth between parties. States such as California will almost always choose the Democratic candidate and Texas will almost always choose the Republican candidate. Swing states vary slightly from election to election.

In the 2016 election there are 11 battleground states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. In the 2012 election there were only eight swing states.

An example of swing state behaviour is Florida in recent elections. Florida chose George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, but chose Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

All information was taken from archives.gov and politico.

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