Does Your Vote Really Matter? How the Electoral College System Works.

What is the Electoral College?

The founding fathers established the Electoral College as a compromise between election of the President by Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The U.S. Constitution states in Amendment XII, ratified by the states in 1804:

“The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed ….”

Image Source: cnn.com

Image Source: cnn.com

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors who cast votes to decide the President and Vice-President of the United States. The number 538 is the sum of the nation’s 435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 electors given to the District of Columbia.

In all but two states, the candidate who wins a majority of popular votes also wins all of that state’s electoral votes (“winner take all” rule). The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538) then wins the Presidency.

Image Source: wikipedia.org

2016 ELECTORAL MAP
Image Source: wikipedia.org

How Are Each State’s Electors Selected?

There is a two-part process to selecting each state’s Electors. First, the political parties in each state choose slates of potential Electors sometime before the general election. Electors are often chosen to recognize their service and dedication to that party. So by the end of the first stage, each Presidential candidate has his or her own unique slate of potential Electors.

Second, on Election Day, the voters in each state select their state’s Electors by casting their ballots for President. Most voters don’t know it, but when they cast votes for the Presidential candidate of their choice they are actually voting to select their state’s Electors.

In all states except in Nebraska and Maine, the winning Presidential candidate’s slate of potential Electors are then appointed as the state’s Electors.

For example, if Donald Trump won the popular vote in Alaska, his slate of potential Electors are appointed as Alaska’s Electors. Those Electors would then cast their votes for Trump as President.

In Nebraska and Maine, the state winner receives two Electors and the winner of each congressional district (who may be the same as the overall winner or a different candidate) receives one Elector. This system permits the Electors from Nebraska and Maine to be awarded to more than one candidate.

Are Electors Legally Required to Vote for their Party’s Candidate?

It depends. There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires Electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states.

However, 27 states require Electors to cast their votes according to the popular vote. About 29 states also provide that so-called “faithless Electors” may be subject to fines or may be disqualified for casting an invalid vote and be replaced by a substitute elector. Throughout history, more than 99 percent of Electors have voted as pledged.

And yet, there have been 157 faithless electors in American history. 71 of these votes were changed because the original candidate died before the day on which the Electoral College cast its votes.

When Does the Electoral College Actually Vote?

Although the nation goes to the voting booths on November 8, each state’s electors meet on the Monday following the second Wednesday of December to cast their votes, which is December 19, 2016, this year. Those votes are then sent to the President of the Senate who reads them before both houses of Congress on January 6th. The President-Elect takes the oath of office and is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th in the year following the Presidential election.

Can A Candidate Win the Popular Vote But Not the Required 270 Electoral College Votes to Become President?

Yes! This happened to George W. Bush in 2000, who lost the popular vote to Al Gore by .51% but won the electoral college 271 to 266.

As explained above, the President is not chosen by a nation-wide popular vote but is determined by the electoral college. In all elections since the nation’s founding, except for three, the popular vote aligned with the electoral votes.

The three elections where the popular vote differed from the electoral votes were: the Hayes/Tilden election of 1876, the Harrison/Cleveland election of 1888, and Bush/Gore in 2000.

What If Neither Candidate Wins the Required Majority of 270 Electoral Votes?

The Constitution provides an answer for this scenario, as well. If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.

Believe it or not, this has actually happened twice in American history!

In 1801 Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, both Democrat-Republicans, received the same number of electoral votes, despite the fact that Burr was running as a vice presidential candidate, not for the presidency. Following 36 successive votes in the House, Jefferson was finally elected president.

In 1824 John Quincy Adams was elected president despite not winning either the popular vote or the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson actually received 38,000 more popular votes than Adams, and 15 more electoral votes than Adams. However, Jackson did not receive the majority 131 votes needed in the Electoral College to be declared president. In fact, neither candidate did. The decision went to the House of Representatives, which voted Adams into the White House.

Fun! The world’s most terrifying reality TV show could, under this scenario, continue indefinitely, while either Tim Kaine or Mike Pence serves as acting President.

What do you think? Should the Electoral College system be abolished so that the popular vote determines who becomes President? Or is the popular vote too dangerous?

48 comments on “Does Your Vote Really Matter? How the Electoral College System Works.

  1. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
      Liz Vasquez on

      I agree. I think that the electoral college should be used only during a tie-breaker situation.
      Our government is supposed to be of, by & for the people. If the popular vote of the people is superseded by the electoral college, how does the vote of the people count?
      Most of my life, I thought that the USA was a democracy, but I now realize that since it is actually a constitutional republic, it doesn’t feel much like a democracy, therefore, our government is flawed.
      No wonder folks in places like Norway & Sweden are happiest because their governments are Full Democracies–the will of the people-not a select few who can be subject to manipulation in the electoral college!

      Reply
    • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
      Honeygirl483 on

      It’s Not Read become a skeptic people who are a skeptic Question things, they Analyze things if your READ the info like I did…YOUR VOTE DO NOT NOT MATTER…. The process Goes By the Electoral Collage Vote if it’s A Tie the House of Representatives….then Select the president. .

      Reply
      • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
        Ron on

        Look this country has been through some unbelievable changes since the Constitutional days and we must change with it. So let’s put the sadles in the barn and get and move old tradition to the rocking chair on the front porch. Donkey or elephant doesn’t really matter much anymore because the people are obviously not being heard. Let’s drop this dated electoral voting system and let the peoples real votes be heard.I think you will end up with alot better party overall!!!!

        Reply
    • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
      nonvoter on

      i agree this is why i reguse to vote. because my vote does not matter. if a person can win the popular vote but looses the electoral vote. tell me did any of the votes the american people cast matter? the answer is a big NO! its all fixrd and decided way before we vote. doesanykne remember how angry bush got when he was announced the loser. ill never firget how he acted. then boom out of nowhere ballots were gound and the electoral vote changed in his favor. our voice does not matter. the rlectowral college is a slap in the face.

      Reply
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      Patrice Sims on

      Absolutely, we need to do away with the electoral college vote. Voting is suppose to be “your choice.” It’s not your choice under this system.

      Reply
  2. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Marshall on

    The electoral college would work in its original form. Meaning that if you split the electoral votes like Maine does it would work s it was meant to.

    How was it meant to work. Well since democracy is the tyrrany of the majority over the minority it was meant to give a voice to rural and urban folks. Also to make sure that states with lower population could not be dominated by those states that had more. Sure rural states have less of a voice as it should be. But in popular vote they have non. Just look at California. All of the state voted for trump. It was just the urban centers that sided with Hillary. If Rhodes votes were split of you would have electoral go to both parties. Rather than winner take all.

    Reply
    • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
      Sandy on

      Thank you for explaining this. I have always been against that electoral vote but I think because it has always been used wrong in my voting life time. How can we make it work the way it was meant to work?

      Reply
    • Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
      Keith Gras on

      As long as they have senators on the electoral college our votes will not count. They are gonna vote for who ever their campaign contributors tell them to.
      Get rid of it and only let senators and governors have a 8 year term in office.
      We need new fresh blood in office.

      Reply
  3. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Marceline Joseph on

    What is the purpose of voting if the electoral college chooses the president anyway. What is the purpose of the electoral college if the popular vote can determines who is president? Why is there a middle man? If the electoral college can still decide who they want to be president, I assume they could have made their decision before we even voted. Could it be possible that they did not interject against the popular vote other times because the people voted for the individual they originally planned on?

    Reply
  4. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Connie on

    Two times the popular vote didn’t work, and they just said that they hold up the original law. I’m sorry but Trump WON on this outdated platform, even as he bashes mail in voters, why in the world are we voting? I’m not confident that our system will work, seeing that it’s happened at least twice in my lifetime! This is crazy, how are to feel like e even matter, when the vote is taken away from us?
    I’m feeling like it’s useless to try given this new information, new to me. Thankfully I didn’t know that this when I was younger I would have never tried.
    Very saddened by the state of our country. Period.

    Reply
  5. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Robert Evans on

    If the president is meant represent the people then the people should elect the president of their choice by popular vote. The framers were wrong for creating the electoral college and it’s still wrong today. Especially in the 2020 race. Winner takes all. This will be my first time voting and I’m 66 yrs. old. Why now? Because I just want it recorded how much I despise what Trump has done to our country even though my vote won’t matter at all.

    Reply
  6. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Charles Dunn on

    I’m 52 and have only voted once because the Electoral College makes my vote meaningless… both as a conservative in California and a conservative in Idaho. The U.S. would have a significantly higher voter turnout if the Popular vote was in place.

    Reply
  7. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Victoria Pena on

    I believe they should do away with the electoral college vote due to interference with other countries interfering with our elections. We are in a different situation now due to techology.

    Reply
  8. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Kimberli Burback on

    I think you should do away with the electoral college vote and let the American people, being the popular vote, determine the president of the United States!!!

    Reply
  9. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
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    John on

    Why can’t electoral college be dropped? Other unfair legislations such as “Jim Crow Laws” were dropped from the constitution – thus the amendment to the constitution. Why encourage citizens to vote if a candidate wins by a significant margin (such as Hillary won by 3 million votes), and then negate the will of the people by re-voting through electoral college? Who matters more: the 3 million people (popular vote) for Hillary Clinton; or 307 electors (people) for Donald Trump? If 2020’s election results will occur similarly to 2016’s, I will never vote again. Why vote if majority’s popular vote doesn’t count? It is quite sickening!

    Reply
  11. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    john on

    Why can’t electoral college be dropped? Other unfair legislations such as “Jim Crow Laws” were dropped from the constitution – thus the amendment to the constitution. Why encourage citizens to vote if a candidate wins by a significant margin (such as Hillary won by 3 million votes), and then negate the will of the people by re-voting through electoral college? Who matters more: the 3 million people (popular vote) for Hillary Clinton; or 307 electors (people) for Donald Trump? If 2020’s election results will occur similarly to 2016’s, I will never vote again. Why vote if majority’s popular vote doesn’t count? It is quite sickening!

    Reply
  12. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Rob on

    If one candidate wins the popular vote, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, but the other candidate wins the election, then every vote did not count.

    Reply
  13. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
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    Miss L on

    Absolutely the Electoral College system should be abolished and the popular vote be the one that determines who will be president. Otherwise there will be less and less voter turnout especially with the younger generation who many already don’t believe it matters if they vote or not.

    Reply
  16. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Laurie on

    Absolutely the Electoral College system should be abolished and the popular vote be the one that determines who will be president. Otherwise there will be less and less voter turnout especially with the younger generation who many already don’t believe it matters if they vote or not.

    Reply
  17. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Bridget on

    It should be by popular vote, otherwise the president is not elected by the will of the people and discourages citizens to vote. It is a very unfair system. Hillary had 4 million more popular votes than Trump, so basically the electoral college subjected the American people to the abomination that is Trump. It is very misleading, so what is the point of debating, Trump’s ridiculous rallies, political commercials etc if the popular vote doesn’t even count? We live in a shitty country based on lies

    Reply
  18. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Frank Lesley on

    Do not believe that the electoral college process is not corrupt in today’s reality.
    Politicians, senators, congressmen and women are elected by large deep pocket corporations. Their votes are tallied, paid for by the biggest donations to his or her private or campaign funds.
    Look through history how so many laws, constitutional rights have been altered and changed to favor big money politics.
    My opinion only, do not believe in government anymore, to corrupt.

    Reply
  19. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Amanda Fletcher on

    I definitely believe that the electoral college needs to go it’s outdated and it goes against the idea that we are all in this together as Americans. And It would be just easier if the popular vote one.

    Reply
  20. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
  21. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
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    JoEllyn McAley on

    Yes, the electoral voting system needs to change!! As stated in your article, there is no mandate that the electoral must vote with popular vote in every state.
    Currently there is so much corruption in our government, and interference from other countries, we need a more trusted system. Additionally, if you don’t live in a “swing” state, candidates don’t even bother trying to get your vote.
    Meanwhile, all voters need to pay attention to who they are voting for locally, in the state, including judges, as local cases feed to the Supreme court.

    Reply
  23. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Jason Muga on

    Your votes don’t count one iota!!!! The Bilderbergs family and Rothschilds family tells the electoral college who to pick. This is also decided at the Bohemian grove in the California redwoods! Humans are ignorant!

    Reply
  24. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Lynn on

    I think everyone’s vote should be equal. Why should one state’s vote (or the vote of the electoral college), count more than any other American citizen’s? The electoral college not only makes the voting process unfair, but open the process up to be abused by one candidate, (Donald Trump), for example, who only cares about the vote of those 270, and could care less about the millions others in the rest of the country….

    Reply
  25. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Julie Kaye on

    I believe the electoral College should be abolished simply because the reason it was originally established, is no longer valid.

    Reply
  26. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
  27. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    azin on

    I honestly don’t understand the importance of the electoral colleges. To me, it looks like they are doing more harm than good, specially with this “winner takes all” system. Can you explain it to me, in layman’s terms, why not elect the president directly? And how exactly does the electoral colleges give a voice to the rural population. Also how is it that those two states don’t have the winner takes all rule? Which one do you think is better?

    Reply
  28. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Sherry Lynne on

    The popular vote should be the only vote that matters! By using the popular vote to determine presidency you are getting an accurate measure of the general public’s approval. This would include fair distribution of input across all socioeconomic classes. The electoral system is broken and does not always reflect public Iinput. Electoral votes should only count if there is a dead heat in public votes.

    Reply
  29. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
  30. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Yvette on

    We should stick to the electoral college because most people don’t even understand politics and don’t even try. They just vote for the person the like the best

    Reply
  31. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    John Hendersched on

    If it is all decided by the electoral college what is the point of wasting my time to vote. It sounds like my vote really does not meen crap at all and I really see no point in voting anymore. It is supposed to be we the people afterall am I mistaken? It is instead we the electoral college.

    Reply
  32. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Beth Rosswog on

    It seems possible that electors could be “bought” There are flaws in both systems but I feel the electoral college is antiquated. The popular vote should rule

    Reply
  33. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Elaine Wagner on

    Standing in line for 3 hours to vote is pointless and my vote doesnt mean shit and will not vote anymore after this election. Your not going by popular vote and do the electoral votes determine presidency it’s not the privilege to vote when your vote doesnt mean shit

    Reply
  34. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Kenneth Russell Law on

    TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN,
    The electoral college and the U.S. Constitution are antiquated relics of an era in U.S. history that enabled and committed genocide against the the Native American population, enslaved the black man, women and child to harvest the biggest cash crop of the day, which was cotton. Using the doctrines of Manifest Destiny and Divine Providence, the founders of the Constitution were opportunists and exploiters of the human condition. The U.S.A. is without question the most corrupt nation/government in the world. Its’ DNA is war. It is a war nation with a war economy, whereby the U.S. political, military, industrial complex has presently established some 1,000 military bases and facilities located in over 140 nations worldwide. Every citizen voter, taxpayer and 501c3 entity within the U.S. and its’ territories are this war machine that has murdered millions of innocent men, women and children both domestically and internationally since 1787 . Today, in 21st century America, the propaganda and cultural conditioning that each and every citizen is exposed to from birth to death prevents them from seeing what they are truly a part of vis-a-vis the world at large. The U.S.A. is not anything close to a Democracy. It’s a hybrid between being an Oligarchy and a Plutocracy. Americans do not live in freedom. They only chase the illusion of freedom that the government has created for them to believe and worship at their own expense. A true crime against all humanity.

    Thank you,

    Kenneth Russell Law

    Reply
  35. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Debbie Devine on

    In my opinion, I think the electoral college should be abolished. Every one should have their vote counted as to who becomes president, not the electric college. It seems unfair that my vote basically doesn’t count in the election. How can a candidate who won the popular vote by 4 million people may not be our next president. So the popular votes don’t even count.
    How can this be fair !!! I think EVERY vote should count by the people.

    Reply
  36. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Henry on

    If the Electors do not vote by who the majority of the people vote, yes the Electoral College SHALL be eliminated, permanently, from the process. Votes by the people SHALL take priority, period!!!!!

    Reply
  37. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Russell on

    If a state is allowed to pass a law that the electoral votes must go to the winner of the popular vote, then what is the point of having them in the first place?

    Reply
  38. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Reuben Makepeace on

    Well I guess the votes are in from the electoral college. It sounds like they are in agreement that Joe Biden won. I think President Trump still has something to say about that though. He seems to be convinced that he won. What do you think about all that?

    Reply
  39. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Rachel on

    There have actually been 4 elections where the electoral vote and the popular vote differed, the most recent was between Trump and Hillary in 2016. Hillary had won the popular vote but Trump won the electoral vote.

    Reply
  40. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Allie on

    I think in my opinion we need to abolish electoral college votes it was we the people not we the electoral college votes for presidency all this proves is corruption in all ways from our country leaders in high government and we the people really don’t matter

    Reply
  41. Avatar for Mary Mock mmock
    Marva Mosley on

    I feel that the electoral votes should be abolish and that the president elect should be the choice of the people. Like why even bother to vote if our voices aren’t being heard. An if the electoral votes is necessary then the candidate that has the most popular votes should win those electoral votes period.

    Reply

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