The Electoral College
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Law and Politics

The Electoral College

The process for electing U.S. presidents


  • The Electoral College is the system used in the United States to elect the president and vice president.14
  • The Electoral College was created by the Founding Fathers in 1787 and was later modified by the 12th Amendment.1
  • There are 538 total electors. A candidate must win the "magic number" of 270 electors to become president.2 11
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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 Nebraska18, are able to split their total electoral votes.3


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.



In the 2016 election, 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.8 16 This is the fifth time in U.S. history where a candidate won the Electoral College yet lost the popular vote.17

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The 2016 election results caused many to question and even protest whether the Electoral College fairly represents the majority "will" of the country. Many continue to debate if we should change the way we elect our presidents.7


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.4



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.5



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.6 Receiving the majority vote for both structures gives more credibility to his nomination.


Popular Vote

Some believe the popular vote is a better representation of the country, as the vote represents the majority count.7


"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.8


For example, Ohio and Florida are both considered swing states.16 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.9 10


  • In order to change the process, a Constitutional amendment would have to be passed by Congress and signed by the President.12
  • After the 2016 election, many have introduced plans to amend the way in which the U.S. elects presidents.13 


  • In 1969, a bipartisan effort was put forth to change the Electoral College.15  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