How the Electoral College works

The final sprint to the finish line is underway. The presidential candidates are making their final arguments in battleground states. They are important because of the electoral votes at stake.

The Electoral College in its essence is basically a compromise between having Congress select all of our Presidents, which Congress once did, and letting all of us by popular vote select our presidents.

The Electoral College is what actually elects a president. We all think we do, but we don't really. What we do is we vote for the Electoral College. These people are the ones who actually have the votes that make it happen.

Each state selects its electors from much of the good citizenry of that state and they are proportional by the size of the congressional delegation from the states.

For example, all of your congress members and your senators combined produce the number of electoral votes you get in your state. That means California gets a lot; so does Texas. Montana and North Dakota – not so many.

The behavior of the electors is one of the great acts of trust in this country because only in a few places are they actually bound to what the people and the population say. They could change their minds, and there have been rare occasions in which electors have gone to the actual process of electing the president and said “I disagree with my state,” and they've cast another vote.

One of the big arguments you always hear for the Electoral College is that it evens out power a little bit. If you just had a popular vote, then the most populous states would really consolidate all of the power. If you lived in a place like North Dakota, you would have very little influence or the ability to create influence unless you banded with other states. Beyond that, all of the campaigning would only happen in giant populations centers.

The biggest con you hear is that it can override the popular vote. People can triangulate the electoral votes and actually win the presidency when most of the people in the country do not want that person in the oval office.

If neither candidate can get at least 270 electoral votes, which is what you need to win, the decision then falls to theU.S. House of Representatives. They would have to hash it out there looking at the top presidential candidates, and they would decide who would be the president. Each state just gets one vote then, so Idaho would have just as much punch as Florida or New York.

The Senate selects the vice president after that happens. That means, with the the House now controlled by republicans and the Senate now controlled by democrats, you very well could wind up, if you had a tie, with Mitt Romney as President and Joe Biden as Vice President.

Your vote does count to some degree, though. If you're a democrat living in a hugely republican state, you're not really going to have an impact on the results. The same is true if you're a republican living in a democratic state. Your vote counts in the sense that you're exercising your opinion and people will see it. In terms of actual results, not always.


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