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The Electoral College

With the 2020 presidential election only a few months away, a refresher on our election process seemed apropos to dig into - specifically the Electoral College and how it plays into the election. The Electoral College is a process, not a physical place, that was established by the Founding Fathers under Article II, Section 1 in the U.S. Constitution. It is the formal body which elects both the President and Vice President to office. The process was established as a compromise between an election by popular vote (deemed potentially reckless at the time) and a vote by Congress to elect the President. The Electoral College is made up of 538 Electors; each state has as many electors in the college as they have Representatives and Senators in Congress.


In the spring and summer leading up to an election, the political parties nominate slates of potential electors. This step in the process is controlled at the state level, and differs by state... because of course it does. When we go to the polls to cast our vote in November, we are placing a vote for these presidential electors who were selected by that candidate's party.  After the deadline for resolving election disputes, the electors of the winning slate meet and cast their ballot for POTUS. The majority of states follow a "Winner Take All" system - the winner of the popular vote determines which party's electors will be the one to cast their vote. But there are a few exceptions - like Nebraska and Maine - who instead utilize the district system. What happens if neither candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes? 

This is called a contingent election and happened in both 1800 (Jefferson and Burr) and 1824 (Jackson and Adams). These contingent elections resulted in amendments to the electoral process in hopes of avoiding similar disputes in the future. Today, if neither candidate receives the majority of electoral votes, the Constitution states that the House of Representatives chooses the President, and the Senate chooses the Vice President.


Dive deeper: National Conference of State Legislatures: The Electoral College National Archives: About the electors 7 Most Contentious US Presidential Elections Image by Monika Kozub

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