When American voters go to the polls to vote for president, many believe that they are participating in a direct election of the president. Technically, this is not the case, due to the existence of the electoral college, a constitutional relic of the 18th century.
The electoral college is the name given a group of "electors" who are nominated by political activists and party members within the states. On election day these electors, pledged to one or another candidate, are popularly elected. In December following the presidential vote the electors meet in their respective state capitals and cast ballots for president and vice president. To be elected, a president requires 270 electoral votes.
In recent history, the electors have never cast their ballots against the winner of the popular vote. For all intents and purposes, the electoral college vote, which for technical reasons is weighted in favor of whoever wins the popular election, increases the apparent majority of the winning candidate and lends legitimacy to the popular choice. It is still possible, however, that in a close race or a multiparty race the electoral college might not cast 270 votes in favor of any candidate - in that event, the House of Representatives would choose the next president.
The electoral college system was established in Article II, Section I, of the U.S. Constitution. While it has been the subject of mild controversy in recent years, it is also seen as a stabilizing force in the electoral system.
HOW THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE WORKS TODAY
...Registered voters in the 50 states and the District of Columbia cast ballots for president and vice president on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November in a presidential election year.
...The candidates who win the popular vote within the state usually receive all the state’s electoral votes. (Technically, all the electors pledged to those candidates are elected.)
...A state’s number of electors equals the number of senators and representatives from that state. The District of Columbia, which has no voting representation in Congress, has three electoral votes.
...The electors meet and officially vote for president and vice president on the first Monday following the second Wednesday in December in a presidential election year. A majority of the vote is required for a candidate to be elected. Since there are 538 electors, a minimum of 270 is necessary to win the electoral college.
...If no candidate for president receives a majority of the electoral votes, the House of Representatives must determine the winner from among the top three vote-getters in the electoral college. In doing so, members of the House vote by states, with each state delegation casting one vote.
...If no candidate for vice president receives a majority of the electoral vote, the Senate must determine the winner from among the top two vote-getters in the electoral college.
...The president and vice president
take their oath and assume office on the next