Electoral College vs. Popular Vote


Did you know that 270 is the magic Election Day number? A Presidential Candidate must have at least 270 electoral votes in order to win the election, regardless of the results of the popular vote.  There are a total of 538 total electoral votes.

The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College as a compromise between rival parties who had differing ideas on how to elect the President of the United States. The Electoral College begins when the electors are selected. The selection process varies from state to state. In some states, state political parties nominate the electors at state party conventions. In other states, electors are voted for on Election Day, their names appearing on the ballot along with the Presidential Candidates. The only people who may not be considered to be electors are individuals who currently hold a federal office or those who have committed treason against the United States.

Each state has a different number of electors. The number of electors is determined by how many Congressional Delegates and Senators the state has. For example, North Carolina gets 15 electoral votes.  These 15 electoral votes are comprised of 1 electoral vote for every Congressional Delegate and 2 electoral votes for every Senator.

All chosen electors meet at the state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December to cast their votes (this year, they’ll meet on December 17).  The votes are then formerly counted by Congress when they reconvene in January but Candidates can often determine if they’ve won the Electoral College vote ahead of time because electors “pledge” their vote well before they actual vote in December. If an elector pledges his or her vote to one candidate and then votes for another, these electors are called “Faithless Electors”. Some states, like North Carolina, penalize Faithless Electors by charging them a fine.

There is no constitutional provision or federal law in place that requires the electors to vote according to the result of the popular vote in their state but some states have state laws that require it. In 29 states and the District of Columbia, the electors are bound by state law and/or by state or party pledge to cast their vote for the candidate that wins the statewide popular vote.

It is rare for electors to disregard the popular vote by casting their electoral vote for someone other than their party’s candidate. Electors generally hold a leadership position in their party or were chosen to recognize years of loyal service to the party. Throughout our history as a nation, more than 99 percent of electors have voted as pledged.

In most elections the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins the Electoral College but not always. In 2000, Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote by a small margin over Candidate George W. Bush but Bush turned around and won the electoral college with 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266 making Bush President of the United States.

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