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Part of the American election process is the Electoral College. While voters across the 50 states have a majority of the influence over selecting the President of the United States, the Electoral College serves an important role in appointing a new leader. This blog explores how the Electoral College works.

State Electors

When a citizen receives a ballot for president and vice-president of the US, they vote for a candidate’s name. Voters cast a ballot for the electors of a particular candidate. The electors in each state then cast a vote for a presidential candidate and vice-presidential candidate. To become an elector, someone must first receive a nomination from the state political party. If their candidate wins on election day, they become an elector.

Votes in the Electoral College

In December after the presidential election, electors meet to cast ballots for the president and vice-president. Many states have laws stipulating that those in the Electoral College must vote for the candidate who has the most votes in the state. Electors must follow the will of the plurality of voters in the state and are ideally bound to the majority vote. However, Nebraska and Maine use a proportional representation system that allocates two electors from the candidate with a plurality of the vote and one from each congressional district.

Outcomes of the Electoral College

To win the presidency, a candidate must receive at least 270 out of 538 votes when the Electoral College convenes. Although people typically know the result of the Electoral College before it occurs, many elections in US history include electors who voted for someone other than their pledged candidate. If the vote from the Electoral College results in a tie, the US House of Representatives decides the winner. Only twice in American history has this been the case.

Certification of the Presidential Vote

In January after the election, the US House of Representatives and the Senate convene in a joint session to make the results of the election official. Members of both parties certify the results, though objections can be made. If an objection occurs, both groups return to their chambers and discuss the merits of the objection. If both the House and the Senate uphold the objection, the particular votes from a state’s electors are null and void. Otherwise, the results are declared official, and the winner of the election becomes the new President.