system of the Electoral College was established in Article II,
Section I, of the United States Constitution, and was later modified
by the 12th and 23rd Amendments, which
clarified the process.
U.S. citizens vote for President and Vice President every election
year, ballots show the names of the Presidential and Vice
Presidential candidates, although they are actually electing a slate
that represent them in each state. The electors from every state
combine to form the Electoral College.
state is given a set number of Electors, determined by the number of
the its U.S. Congressmen. The number of Representatives in each
state correlates with the state population and is amended every
decade when the Census is taken.
The number of Senators is always two.
(To see a list of state populations and their respective number of
electoral votes click here).
Each political party with a candidate on the
ballot designates their own set of Electors for each state, matching
the number of Electors they appoint with the number of Electoral
votes allotted to the state. This usually occurs at the State party
Conventions. Electors are typically strong and loyal supporters of their
political party, but can never be a U.S. Senator or Representative.
Electors are also generally free agents, as only 29 states
require electors to vote as they have pledged, and many
Constitutional scholars believe those requirements would not stand
in a court challenge.
After the election,
the party that wins the most votes in each state appoints all
of the Electors for that state. This is known as a winner-take-all
or unit rule allocation of electors. Currently, the only exceptions
to this are in Maine
The Electors for each state cast their votes in
mid-December, after which the votes are sealed and sent to the
President of the Senate. Though the public votes for the party as a
whole, the Electors cast individual votes on separate ballots for
President and Vice President. This has become important in several
elections where Electors voted for candidates other than
those they were pledged to. (See which states have legal
control over their electors here
On January 6, the President of the U.S. Senate
opens all of the sealed envelopes containing the Electoral
votes and reads them aloud. To be elected as President or Vice
President, a candidate must have an absolute majority (51%) of the
Electoral votes for that position.
A majority is never guaranteed within the
Electoral College. An election with no Electoral College majority
could occur in two ways; if two candidates tie with 269 votes each
or if three or more candidates receive Electoral votes.
If no Presidential candidate obtains a majority
of the Electoral votes, the decision is deferred to the U.S.
Congress. The House of Representatives selects the President,
choosing between the top three candidates, and the Senate selects
the Vice President, choosing between the top two candidates.
In the House selection, each state receives only one vote and
an absolute majority of the states (26) is required to elect the
President. (In this situation, Washington, DC would lose the voting
power given to it by the 23rd Amendment since it does not
have the same Congressional representation given to the states).
However, a majority winner is not guaranteed in
the Congress either. The states could feasibly split their votes
equally between 2 candidates (25 state votes each) or the votes
could be split between three candidates in such a way that no
candidate receives a majority.
Also, since every state only gets one vote, the
Representatives from each state must come to a decision on which
candidate to support in the House. A state with an equal number of
Representatives supporting the competing parties would not be able
to cast its vote unless one Representative agreed to vote for the
If a majority is not reached (for President) within the
House by January 20 (the day the President and Vice President are
sworn in), the elected Vice President serves as President until the
House is able to make a decision.
If the Vice President has not been elected either, the
sitting Speaker of the House serves as acting President until the
Congress is able to make a decision.
If a President has been selected but no Vice President has
been selected by January 20, the President then appoints the Vice
President, pending approval by Congress
Electoral College Table of