What is the Electoral College?

Just like we do every four years, America’s getting ready for another Presidential election. But did you know your vote doesn’t go straight to your favorite candidate? That’s because the United States has something called an Electoral College… it’s not a university… but a group of people who do the electing for us. 538 of them to be exact.

If it’s been a long time since your last civics class, here’s a refresher course. When our founding fathers were writing the Constitution, they decided they didn’t want an ill-informed public to directly elect the President and Vice President, nor did they want to leave it up to Congress. Plus, they wanted every state to have a role in national elections.

So the Founding Fathers came up with a system of “electors” – or pre-selected people from each state who ultimately elect the President and Vice President. The 538 “electors” are divided among the states according to each state’s representation in Congress: two Senators per state plus the number of Representatives in each state. For example, Florida has 29 electors, while North Carolina has 15, and Utah has six. The candidate who wins the popular vote in a given state gets all of that state’s electoral votes.

Back to our Florida example. The Presidential Ticket that wins the most popular votes in Florida wins all 29 electors – no matter if the candidates win by 5 votes, five thousand or even five million. This happens in all the other states, except in Nebraska and Maine where it’s not winner-take-all for electors. Get a majority of those votes – that’s 270 – to win.