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Law and Politics

The Electoral College

And electing a U.S. president

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

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

  • There are 538 total elector votes, known as "electors." [National Archives]
  • To become president, a candidate must win the "magic number" of 270 electors. [NPR]
  • The popular vote within the state indicates to the electors the will of the people. [National Archives]
  • Ultimately, state legislatures control how the electors vote. [National Conference of State Legislatures]
  • Maine and Nebraska split their total electoral votes amongst candidates. [270 to Win]
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CIVICS: The American people do not technically elect the president - the electors do. Cautious about granting powers to the general voting public, the Founding Fathers created a safety valve against popular will.  [HISTORY


SOCIAL: Donald J. Trump won the Electoral College to become the 45th President of the United States. 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 but lost the popular vote. [Pew Research] 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]


Voice to all

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



Founding Fathers

The Founding Fathers purposefully structured the United States as a republic, not a full democracy, to avoid the "tyranny of the majority." [Vox]


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 winning both voting structures gives more credibility to a presidential win. [The Nation]


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


Popular Vote

Some believe the popular vote is a better representation of the will of the people, 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. Candidates visit those states more often than Montana (historically Republican safe state) or California (historically Democratic safe state).



Stuck in the past

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




States have the constitutional ability to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote and not to the winner district-by-district. This is known as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.


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

  • One idea is for states to give their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. It is referred to by some as the "popular vote movement" or the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact ("the pact").

  • Colorado passed legislation to support the pact. [The New York Times] There are 12 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.) in the pact, totaling 181 electoral votes. [The Associated Press]

  • Similar legislation was proposed in New Mexico and Delaware.  [The Associated Press]

  • July 2020: The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the pact, supporting that electors must cast their ballot for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote. [The Los Angeles Times]


  • How might you support the popular vote movement? Would you support it or rally against it?

  • See how many electoral votes your state holds here.

  • Play around with the electoral math, state by state, with 270towin.

  • If the country agrees to elect solely on the popular vote, how might campaigning change for nominees?

  • 2020 presidential hopeful, Elizabeth Warren (D) wants to get rid of the electoral college. [The Boston Herald] Is she alone?

  • What if the electoral college is tied? Watch the video below.

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This article is aligned with Purple for Democracy,

a movement to support democracy through non-partisan, non-political content. 

Learn more about the Purple movement here


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