Warm Up! Examine this political cartoon: What do you believe it is saying about the Electoral College? How is it saying this?
Key Points! Every four years the people of the United States elect a president, but not directly. According to the Constitution, the presidency is awarded to the candidate with the most electoral votes, not the most popular votes.
The Electoral College in Five Easy Steps Step 1: In November of a presidential election year, each state holds an election in which all eligible citizens may vote. Citizens vote for a ticket which includes a candidate for president and a candidate for vice president.
The Electoral College in Five Easy Steps Step 2: The outcome of the popular vote in each state determines the electors who make the actual choice of president and vice president. Each state has as many electors as it has senators and members of the House of Representatives, for a total of 538. (The District of Columbia gets three electors even though it has no representation in Congress.)
The Electoral College in Five Easy Steps Step 3: In December, the electors meet in their state capitols to cast their ballots for president and vice president. States may or may not require their electors to vote with the popular majority, and they may or may not give all of their electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote.
The Electoral College in Five Easy Steps Step 4: These ballots are opened, counted, and certified by a joint session of Congress in January.
The Electoral College in Five Easy Steps Step 5: If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes or if the top two candidates are tied, the House selects a president from among the leading five candidates. Each state's delegation has a single vote. The Senate selects a vice president by the same process. (This hasn't happened since 1876, but it almost happened in 2000.)
Summary! The ticket with the most popular votes is not guaranteed the presidency. Candidates are not competing for the nation as a whole, but for individual states and their electoral votes.