The Electoral College

The Electoral College

Who elects the President of the United States? Go to Electoral College and find out.

Grades

5 - 12+

Subjects

Civics, Social Studies, U.S. History

The United States elects its president and vice president indirectly, using an "Electoral College." The Electoral College has nothing to do with education, and its members (called electors) never actually meet together. Members of the Electoral College are appointed by states.

Voters cast their ballots on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (In 2016, election day is November 8.) This is the "popular vote."

Although voters choose their preferred candidate—in 2016, the top contenders are Hillary Clinton, a Democrat, and Donald Trump, a Republican—the popular vote does not officially determine the president.

The popular vote determines the votes of the Electoral College, which officially elects the president in mid-December. (In 2016, the president will be elected December 19.)

There are currently 538 members of the Electoral College. Each state gets as many electors as its number of representatives in Congress. So, each state has at least three electors, because each state has two Senators and at least one member of the House of Representatives. Representation in the House is determined by the U.S. Census, conducted every 10 years. (The last Census was conducted in 2010, setting the number of House members and Electoral College electors through 2020.) The District of Columbia is allowed no more electors than the least-populous state. (In 2016, Washington, D.C., had three electors.)

The math adds up: There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 Senators, and three representatives from the District of Columbia. So, there are 538 electors.

Except for Maine and Nebraska, the Electoral College is a "winner take all" system. All electors vote for the winner of their state's popular vote, no matter how narrow their margin of victory.

Candidates must receive more than half of the total votes to win an election. Half of 538 is 269, so a candidate must receive 270 electoral votes to win.

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Cartographer
U.S. Census
Producer
National Geographic Society
other
Last Updated

May 20, 2022

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