At first you may think that the Electoral College is a school somewhere where people learn about politics, but that isn't the case. The Electoral College isn't even a place, it's the process that elects the president of the United States.
Don't the citizens of the U.S. elect the president?
Well, not directly. When people vote for president they are really voting for an elector from their state. Each state has a certain number of electors. These electors then vote for president.
How many electors does each state get?
Each state gets an elector for each member of Congress from that state. That is one for each member from the state in the House of Representatives (which is based on the population of the state) and two more for the state's two senators. For example, California gets 55 electors, North Carolina 15, and Wyoming 3.
How do states choose their electors?
Each state has its own rules on how electors are chosen. Usually, the political party of the presidential candidate who won the state chooses the electors.
Who can be an elector?
Pretty much anyone who can vote can be an elector. The only people prevented from being electors are certain political leaders like Senators and Representatives. Most electors are people who have been loyal and dedicated members of their political party for a long time.
Do electors have to vote a certain way?
This depends on the state. In some states there are laws requiring that electors vote the same as the people who voted for them. Most of the time electors vote as expected, but in rare cases they have changed their vote and voted for a different candidate than the people who voted for them.
All or Nothing
In most states all the electors are awarded to one president. Even if one candidate won by a single popular vote, they would get all the electoral votes. So it is possible that one popular vote in California could make the difference of 55 electoral votes. There are two states, Maine and Nebraska, that split up the electors between the candidates.
Pros and Cons of the Electoral College
Today, many people think that the Electoral College should be abolished and that the total popular vote should determine the president. Here are some of the arguments for and against the Electoral College:
The current process protects state's rights. The United States is a republic of states and each state should be able to apportion its electorates as it sees fit.
The Electoral College keeps high population states and regions from deciding the presidency. Without the Electoral College, a huge popular margin in one state (like California or Texas) could decide the entire election.
It is possible that the winner may not receive the most popular votes. This has happened four times.
Some votes count more than others. In 2012 there were less than 200,000 people per electoral vote in Wyoming, but more than 700,000 people per electoral vote in Texas.
It causes the elections to focus on swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
Interesting Facts about the Electoral College
There are 538 total electors.
The District of Columbia has 3 electors.
A total of 270 electoral votes is needed to win the presidential election.
The electoral votes are officially counted in a joint session of Congress.