The Electoral College
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Law and Politics

The Electoral College

The process for electing U.S. presidents

WHAT IT IS

  • The Electoral College is the system used in the United States to elect the president and vice president. [The Heritage Foundation]

  • The Electoral College was created by the Founding Fathers in 1787 and was later modified by the 12th Amendment. [Time]

  • There are 538 total electors. A candidate must win the "magic number" of 270 electors to become president. [National Archives], [NPR]
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  • To receive the state's electoral votes, the candidate must win the popular vote within that state.
  • For example, Donald Trump won the state of Flordia's popular vote therefore received 29 electoral votes.
  • Some states, like Maine and Nebraska [NBC News], are able to split their total electoral votes. [The Huffington Post]

ELECTORAL COLLEGE,

at a glance.

538 total electors

435 Representatives

100 Senators

3 for D.C.

One state, different numbers

One state is given a total number of electors. That number is different across each state.

 

Some states are able to split their total number of electors across candidates. 

To win, you need 270

The popular vote does not

determine who becomes president. 

Voice to all

Originally crafted by the Founding Fathers to give a voice or power to smaller states.

WHY IT MATTERS

 

Donald J. Trump won the Electoral College to become the 45th President of the United States. However, he lost the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. [The New York Times]

 

This is the fifth time in U.S. history where a candidate won the Electoral College yet lost the popular vote. [Pew Research]

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The difference in what the majority of the country voted versus the outcome of the election caused many to debate if the process for electing U.S. presidents should change.[The Washington Post].

KEEP IT

Voice to all

The Electoral College was created to ensure the whole country is included in an election by requiring representation from each state. Most importantly, states with a smaller population are given a voice against heavily populated states. [U.S.News]

 

 

Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers believed the Electoral College was the best way to ensure that the most educated individuals (the "electors") make the final call in an election. [National Archives]

 

 

More credibility

The current two-tiered structure allows for a more legitimate winner. 

 

For example, in 2012 President Obama won 51.3% of the popular vote and 61.7% of the electoral vote. Some argue that by winning both voting structures gives more credibility to his nomination. [The Nation]

CHANGE IT 

Popular Vote

Some believe the popular vote is a better representation of the country, as the vote represents the majority count. [The Washington Post]


 

"Safe" vs. "Swing"

Some believe there is too much power placed with swing states. Candidates heavily campaign in swing states and often fail to equivalently campaign in safe states. [Politico]

 

For example, Ohio and Florida are both considered swing states. [CBS News] Candidates visit those states more often than Montana (Republican safe state) or California (Democratic safe state).

 

 

Stuck in the past

Some feel the Electoral College is no longer relevant to the 21st Century. [The Washington Post], [The Huffington Post]

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • In order to change the process, a Constitutional amendment would have to be passed by Congress and signed by the president. [Politico]

  • After the 2016 election, many have introduced plans to amend the way in which the U.S. elects presidents. [Time]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • In 1969, a bipartisan effort was put forth to change the Electoral College. [The Los Angeles Times]  It never officially created change.

  • Learn more about the 12th Amendment and how slavery shaped the Electoral College.

  • Think about how gerrymandering impacts the popular vote within a state.
  • Learn more about how other countries elect presidents.
Key Vocabulary