Electoral College

The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The Founding Fathers established it in the Constitution, in part, as a compromise between the election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

What is the process?

The Electoral College process consists of the selection of the electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for President and Vice President, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.

How many electors are there? How are they distributed among the States?

The Electoral College consists of 538 electors. A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President. Your State has the same number of electors as it does Members in its Congressional delegation: one for each Member in the House of Representatives plus two Senators.

The District of Columbia is allocated 3 electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution. For this reason, in the following discussion, the word “State” also refers to the District of Columbia and “Governor” to the Mayor of the District of Columbia.

How are my electors chosen? What are their qualifications? How do they decide who to vote for?

Each candidate running for President in your State has his or her own group of electors (known as a slate). The slates are generally chosen by the candidate’s political party in your State, but State laws vary on how the electors are selected and what their responsibilities are. Read more about the qualifications of the electors and restrictions on who the electors may vote for.

What happens in the general election? Why should I vote?

The general election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. When you vote for a Presidential candidate you are actually voting for your candidate's preferred electors. Learn more about voting for the electors.

Most States have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all electors to the Presidential candidate who wins the State's popular vote. However, Maine and Nebraska each have a variation of “proportional representation.”

Allocation among the States

Electoral votes are allocated among the States based on the Census. Every State is allocated a number of votes equal to the number of senators and representatives in its U.S. Congressional delegation—two votes for its senators in the U.S. Senate plus a number of votes equal to the number of its Congressional districts.

Under the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution, the District of Columbia is allocated three electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College.

Each State (which includes the District of Columbia for this discussion) decides how to appoint its electors. Currently all States use the popular vote results from the November general election to decide which political party chooses the individuals who are appointed

Allocation within each State

All States, except for Maine and Nebraska have a winner-take-all policy where the State looks only at the overall winner of the state-wide popular vote.  Maine and Nebraska, however, appoint individual electors based on the winner of the popular vote for each Congressional district and then 2 electors based on the winner of the overall state-wide popular vote. 

Even though Maine and Nebraska don't use a winner-take-all system, it is rare for either State to have a split vote.  Each has done so once: Nebraska in 2008 and 2020 and Maine in 2016 and 2020.

Electoral College Deficiencies

The primary deficiency of the Electoral College is too often the winner of the nationwide popular vote does not win a majority of the Electoral College Votes (ECVs). Recent occurrences are the 2000 and 2016 elections. The reason for this deficiency is that the District of Columbia and every state except Maine and Nebraska allocate all of their ECVs to the statewide plurality winner. The winner-take-all plurality implementation does not require a majority vote and discards the preference of all voters who did not vote for the winner. Even if the states implemented ranked choice voting to achieve a statewide majority vote winner, it would not ensure a popular vote winner at the national level. The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is an attempt to ensure a popular vote winner. One of its deficiencies is that for a very close election, every state’s election results would be subject to recounts, audits and court challenges. Another deficiency is that a state’s super majority vote could be overridden by the plurality national vote.

A secondary deficiency of the Electoral College for states with the winner-take-all allocation of ECVs, is that candidates focus their campaigns on the swing states where they have a decent chance of winning ECVs. If all states implemented some form of proportional allocation such as Maine and Nebraska, there would be an incentive for candidates to campaign in all states.

Another Electoral College deficiency is the risk of the House of Representatives electing the president when no candidate receives a majority of the ECVs. In a close election between the major party candidates, if a third party candidate won just one state the House could determine the national winner. In the 2000 election if Ralph Nader had won one of the states won by George Bush the election would have been decided by the House. Also, if all states were to implement proportional allocation then a strong third party candidate could win enough ECVs to prevent either of the top-two candidates winning a majority of the ECVs. In the 1992 election, candidate Ross Perot received almost 19% of the national popular vote. If all states had implemented proportional allocation, Ross Perot would have received 96 ECVs, Bill Clinton 238 ECVs, and G.H.W. Bush only 204 ECVs, throwing the election to the House.

RCV/Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson Method
(States’ Ultimate Electoral College Fix)

The Top-Two Proportional Allocation (T-2PA) method eliminates the presidential electors and allocates fractional ECVs thus requiring an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, it has the desirable attributes of eliminating the winner-take-all effect, significantly reducing the impact of a “spoiler candidate,” and fixing “black swan” problems like a presidential election being “Thrown to the House.” According to the Election Reformers Network slide presentation, if T-2PA had been implemented in the 2016 election Hillary Clinton would have won instead of Donald Trump. However, if T-2PA would have been used in the 2000 election, no candidate would have won a majority of ECVs.

Thomas Jefferson proposed a proportional method to use in 1792 for elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. Coupling the Jefferson method with the T-2PA method provides the following results for the 2000 election.

The results for the 2016 election are as follows.

If the states would utilize ranked choice voting (RCV) in their POTUS election process, then residents who voted for their preferred candidate, could avoid the “wasted vote” or “spoiler” effects that occur with single choice plurality voting. Also, if one of the top-two winners was one of the voter’s ranked choices, then the voter would feel like his/her vote made a difference. If the states continued the instant runoff voting elimination rounds until only the top-two winners remained, then there would be further improvement in the correlation of popular vote percentage to ECVs percentage.

The Top-Two Proportional Allocation/Jefferson (T-2PA/J) method results in a highly desirable replacement for the winner-take-all Electoral College Vote allocation currently implemented by the District of Columbia and all states except Maine and Nebraska. It is superior to the congressional district allocation method implemented by Maine and Nebraska that encourages gerrymandering. When enhanced with ranked choice voting, the T-2PA/J method should satisfy the desires of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact promoters while avoiding the cost and delays associated with challenging the election results of every state during a close election. It should be supported by major and third political parties and independents because it results in fair elections. It can be implemented by each state — at its own schedule — because no amendment to the U.S. Constitution is needed. State legislatures should consider, evaluate, and then pass legislation to implement the T-2PA/J method. State residents should encourage their legislators to do so before the 2024 Presidential Election.