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How does the Electoral College Work?

The speculations might be normal for the Presidential elections throughout the 4-year term of Donald Trump, but come November 3rd, 2020, the Electoral College will take precedence over any other discussion. The discussions over the Electoral College will obviously dominate the media and headlines on the Election Day. So, you must be wondering as to what exactly is the Electoral College? How does it function? Let us delve into understanding the Electoral College from close quarters:

Defining the Electoral College

The Electoral College can be understood as a group of people who function together to elect the President and the Vice-President of the United States of America. The word ‘college’ here refers to the body which has been organized to engage together in a task. The Electoral College is comprises of 538 Electors who come together and cast their votes to elect the President and the Vice-President. The candidates receiving a majority of electoral votes i.e.270 wins the Presidency and is appointed the President of the United States of America. But how does the number of electors from various states reach 538? The following diagram shows the exact bifurcations:

Electoral CollegeNumber of Representatives
Electors given to the District of Columbia03
Total Electors538

The system of indirect voting to elect the President states that the voters would not be directly voting for the Presidential candidate directly but instead they will vote to elect some people from their state known as ‘Electors’. Each State has specific number of electoral votes which is redeemed based on the population of the state. These electors are given tickets by the Political Parties in these states. For Example, if you want Donald Trump as President, you would vote the electors representing the Republican Party in your state and this will indirectly be electing Donald Trump. The electors vote on the first Monday after the second Wednesday after the polling day.

Understanding the Functions of the Electoral College

The United States of America goes into polls every four years. The people choose their President and Vice-President through democratically conducted elections in their states. Except for the two states, the candidate winning the majority or popular votes ends up winning the state’s electoral vote. In the states of Nebraska and Maine, the electoral votes have been assigned as per the Population. This is called Proportional Representation. This means that the candidates winning in these states get to have two electoral votes (for the two Senators). The remaining of the electoral votes are then allocated congressional district by congressional district. The rules hereby empower the winning candidates to receive the Electoral votes from Nebraska and Maine. This is a different system as to systems prevailing in other states of America.

Selection of the Electors

The selection process of the electors differ from state to state and is mostly decided by the people of the state under the congressional district formula. The Political Parties nominate their candidates for post of electors at their state conventions or directly represented from the Central Committee of the political party. These electors are state officials, party workers or leaders or people having strong affiliations with the Presidential Candidate. Once finalized by the Party, these electors then campaign for their party in their state with support of their Presidential Candidate.

But a major question arises whether these elected electors require voting for their Party’s Presidential Candidate only? Well, not necessarily. The Constitution and the Federal Election regulations do not compel the elected electors to vote for their Party’s Presidential Candidate. But 27 states have their laws stating that these electors must vote for their party’s candidate if that candidate has received popular vote in the State. But in the rest of the 24 states, there is no such law compelling the candidates to vote for their party only.

In case of Hung Parliament

In the case of a hung parliament or say a situation when no one of the party gets a majority of Electoral College votes, the election is then send to the U.S. House of Representatives. The top three contenders of the elections then face off with each state casting one vote each. The majority is then decided based on that state. The process remains the same for the Vice-Presidency as well but the voting is done in the U.S. Senate.

Does the Electoral College matter?

There is always this popular question of loyalty of the electors and hence they would always vote for their party. Then, what is the need of the Electoral College? This is because of the Democratic Principles on which the United States has been founded on. This system also differentiates the US from other political systems where the highest number of votes automatically decides the win.