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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.

Statewide Proportional Representation

An electoral vote allocation method superior to statewide popular vote winner-take-all and Congressional district popular vote winner is statewide popular vote proportional representation.  Each state would award electors based on the overall split in the popular vote. For example the statewide popular vote winner would receive two electoral votes for its number of Senators.  The number of electoral votes for its number of Representatives would be proportional to the number of statewide popular votes received by each candidate. For example in the Maine 2020 general election the total votes won were: Joe Biden 53.09%; Donald Trump 44.02%; Jo Jorgensen 1.73%: Howie Hawkins 1.00% and Rocky De La Fuente 0.14%. Using the D'Hondt/Jefferson method of proportional allocation Biden and Trump would have each received one Representative electoral vote. Biden would have also received the two Senatorial electoral votes for a total of three. Proportional solutions have been proposed many times in the country's history, and in 1950 the Senate passed such a proposal with more than a two-thirds majority. Statewide proportional representation eliminates the incentives and effects of gerrymandering for POTUS. It would be highly unlikely that the POTUS candidate receiving the greatest national popular vote would not be the Electoral College winner. POTUS candidates would have an incentive to campaign in all states - small, large, red and blue.