It’s Election 2020!

If you’ve been glued to your phone aggressively checking the results of the 2020 Presidential Election,  you are not alone. Now on Day Four, it’s come down to six battleground states and their electoral votes: Alaska (3), Arizona (11), Georgia (16), Nevada (6), North Carolina (15), and Pennsylvania (20). Now, let’s get to the good stuff. What the heck is the Electoral College?

What is the Electoral college?

While it may sound like a college or university, the Electoral College is simply a group of colleagues. To make things simple – think of it as a “colleague of electors”. 

Implemented over 200 years ago, the Electoral College was created to ensure all states had equal representation in the voting process, regardless of population size. At the time, the United States was still a budding country, and some states were simply more advanced than others. Some had larger populations, easier access to newspapers, and solidified education systems, while others were still getting on their feet, made up of farmers dispersed across several states. 

The founders feared putting the presidential election in the hands of such a dispersed, varied, and in some areas, uneducated community. They instead decided to select “electors”, a group of educated individuals selected by each political party. . This was driven by the popular vote or number of votes made by the citizens.

Because of the variance in state populations, they decided to make the number of electors mirror the size of the population. Each state has a certain allocation of electoral votes. This is based on the population of each state. States with larger populations have more electoral votes. California for instance has 55 electoral votes whereas Rhode Island has 4. New York has 29.

How Electoral College Votes Are Determined

The total amount of electoral votes in the United States

The total amount of electoral votes in the United States

While the simple answer is that the number of electoral votes a state gets are based on population, the in depth answer is that electoral votes are based on the number of members in Congress (100 Members of the Senate, 435 members of the House of Representative, 3 members of the District of Colombia) totaling 538 electoral votes.

The number of congressional representatives each state has is based on the population size, whereas the Senate always stays the same (2 per state). The founders decided that the the House would be based  on population and the Senate would have equal representation. This agreement was part of what is referred to as The Great Compromise.

Side note, this is why the US Census is SO important! Having an accurate representation of the population will dictate how many representatives each state gets in Congress – and in hand, the electoral college. 

How are Electors Selected?

Electors are not official government employees.

Electors are not official government employees.

These are people selected once every four years by each political party to cast a ballot for their state during the presidential election. They are NOT government employees and generally do not have their names publicly posted. The way electors are selected varies by state, but are primarily chosen by the political party and include, “state elected officials, state party leaders, or people in the State who have a personal or political affiliation with their party’s Presidential candidate”.

A lot of people may get confused by electors and the House of Representatives – they are both an entirely different group of people. A simple way to remember is that the House of Representatives are Congress members INSIDE the HOUSE and serve two-year terms. A prime example of a Congresswoman / Representative is Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, who represents the 14th district (Bronx, Queens).

Electors…well, we don’t always know who they are. According to the Atlantic, “Right now, the nomination of electors is a backroom process completely opaque to voters. Electors are not listed on most general-election ballots, and many voters who select a presidential candidate on a ballot don’t even know they’re actually voting for electors, much less have any idea who those electors are”. The reasoning is that their identities should be kept secret to prevent bribery or personal harm. Since electors are not government officials, technically, they aren’t bound by law to cast a ballot for the winner of their state’s popular vote.

Has an elector ever voted for someone OTHER than their state’s winning candidate?

Electoral Votes are equal to the number of representatives of each state.

YES. These people are known as “faithless electors”. It has happened over 165 times since the electoral college was instituted, but they have never turned an election. According to,

“Faithless electors have never changed the outcome of a presidential election. To date, only one elector has cast a vote for the opposite party’s nominee instead of his own in a close contest. “

Generally, faithless electors have done so because of the death of a nominee or some other odd, extenuating circumstance. Electors are chosen because they are considered loyal, and have historically voted for the candidate that won the popular vote of that state.

So How Does A Candidate Win The Election?!!!

The popular vote informs the electoral vote.

In order for a presidential candidate to win they need to win the electoral vote, not the popular vote. This is going to be confusing but bear with us. The simplified process looks like this:

  1. Individual citizens aka YOU vote (called the popular vote).
  2. A candidate is determined the WINNER of that state based on the popular vote.
  3. The winning candidate is awarded the electoral votes of that state. The loser gets 0 for that state.

The winner of the election is the one who gets 270 electoral votes or half of the total electoral votes (538).

How Can A Candidate Win the Popular Vote But Lose the Popular Vote?

What area swing states aka “battleground” states?

If a candidate wins a state, they get all of the electoral votes of that state. States with large populations and electoral votes – like California, NY, Texas, Florida, Penn, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, NC, Georgia, Virginia – are often sought after by presidential candidates. A candidate could win the electoral votes in these 11 states, LOSE electoral votes in all other 39 and still WIN the entire election. 

In 2016, Hillary won the popular vote, but Trump won because of the states with higher electoral votes.  In total, Clinton had 2,864,974 MORE votes than Trump, making it the,” largest popular vote margin of any losing presidential candidate in U.S. history”, according to ABC. Trump, however, won with 304 electoral votes versus Clinton’s 227 electoral votes.

Whether the electoral college will go away anytime soon is a question for the times. Until then, we’ll be sitting here refreshing our screen to see what the next four years will look like.

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