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How The Electoral College Works

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I'm surprised by the number of my psychology students who believe that we directly elect the president by popular vote.  Right now, for example, with Romney and Obama about tied in the poles, I have to explain to them that Obama is ahead in the electoral college and that's the group that elects the president.

Each state has the number of electoral college members that is  equal to the their number of U.S. Senators plus their number of members in the House of Representatives.  In a small state like Maryland, where I live, that total comes to 10.  In a huge state like California, that number comes to 55.  If  you would like to check on your state or other states and see how the 2012 election is shaping up then click here.  There are a total of 538 members in the electoral college and it requires 270 electoral college votes to win the election.

Generally, the members of the electoral college are expected to cast their vote for the person who won the popular votes.  Some states require them to do so.  It is possible, however,  that a member might cast their vote for the candidate who lost their state in the election.

On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December the electoral college members cast their votes at their state capitols.  After all of the votes are counted then, and only then, has election for the president been decided.

As you can imagine, it is possible to win the popular vote but lose the election because of how the electoral college is structured.  So far this has happened four times.  Most recently, George Bush won against Al Gore by one electoral college vote.  Al Gore had about a half million more votes in the election than did Bush (disclosure: I voted for Bush).

We have an electoral college because during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 it was expected that congress would elect the president.  The framers really didn't believe that the citizens were best people to elect the president.  But, some folks disagreed so it was decided that each state would elect electors to elect the president. To learn a little more about the debate over the electoral college click here

erick99 posted Apr 29, 2012

I'm going to the convention in August for Romney and was elected an electoral college member for Maryland. Can't wait till Tampa in August!!!

MaryRolle (rep: 23) posted Apr 30, 2012


Presidential elections don't have to be this way.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. There would no longer be a handful of 'battleground' states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in more than 3/4ths of the states that now are just 'spectators' and ignored after the primaries.

When the bill is enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes– enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538), all the electoral votes from the enacting states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC.

The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for President. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state's electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes - 49% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.

Follow National Popular Vote on Facebook via NationalPopularVoteInc

mvymvy (new user) posted Apr 30, 2012


Well put, mvymvy!

erick99 (rep: 430k) posted Apr 30, 2012


With how under-educated the citizens of our country are, I would rather not give "the people" direct voting power. Most of the native English speakers can't even speak their own language with passable grammar, let alone think on higher levels. Sheesh. Disclosure: I'm not a native English speaker =D

dealwagger (rep: 10.3k) posted Apr 30, 2012


The National Popular Vote bill preserves the constitutionally mandated Electoral College and state control of elections. It changes the way electoral votes are awarded by states in the Electoral College, instead of the current 48 state-by-state winner-take-all system (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but since enacted by 48 states). It ensures that every vote is equal, every voter will matter, in every state, in every presidential election, and the candidate with the most votes wins, as in virtually every other election in the country.

The National Popular Vote bill would end the disproportionate attention and influence of the "mob" in the current handful of closely divided battleground states, such as Florida, while the "mobs" of the vast majority of states are ignored. 98% of the 2008 campaign events involving a presidential or vice-presidential candidate occurred in just 15 closely divided "battleground" states. 12 of the 13 lowest population states (3-4 electoral votes), that are non-competitive are ignored, in presidential elections. 9 of the original 13 states are considered “fly-over” now. Over half (57%) of the events were in just four states (Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia). Similarly, 98% of ad spending took place in these 15 "battleground" states.

The current system does not provide some kind of check on the "mobs." There have been 22,000 electoral votes cast since presidential elections became competitive (in 1796), and only 10 have been cast for someone other than the candidate nominated by the elector's own political party. The electors now are dedicated party activists of the winning party who meet briefly in mid-December to cast their totally predictable rubberstamped votes in accordance with their pre-announced pledges.

If a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. If a Republican presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Republican party activists who have been chosen as its slate of electors become the Electoral College voting bloc. The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters from among the winning party's dedicated activists.

mvymvy (new user) posted Apr 30, 2012


Thank you for writing this. It's easier to understand than I've had to read in other places.

Zoey2011 (rep: 30) posted Apr 30, 2012


Thank for your explanation. Nice

YesBoss (rep: 256k) posted May 04, 2012