How the US President is REALLY elected

Daya Gamage |

In the United States, a system called the Electoral College periodically allows a candidate who receives fewer popular votes to win an election. In fact, there have been several presidential candidates who won the popular vote, but lost the election because they received fewer electoral votes. In 2000, George W. Bush received fewer popular votes but was elected president because he received majority of the Electoral College votes.

Every four years, on the Tuesday following the first Monday of November, millions of U.S. citizens go to local voting booths to elect, among other officials, the next president and vice president of their country. Their votes will be recorded and counted, and winners will be declared. But the results of the popular vote are not guaranteed to stand because the Electoral College has not cast its vote.

The Electoral College is a controversial mechanism of presidential elections that was created by the framers of the U.S. Constitution as a compromise for the presidential election process. At the time, some politicians believed a purely popular election was too reckless, while others objected to giving Congress the power to select the president. The compromise was to set up an Electoral College system that allowed voters to vote for electors, who would then cast their votes for candidates, a system described in Article II, section 1 of the Constitution.

Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of its U.S. senators plus the number of its U.S. representatives. Currently, the Electoral College includes 538 electors, 535 for the total number of congressional members, and three who represent Washington, D.C., as allowed by the 23rd Amendment. On the Monday following the second Wednesday in December, the electors of each state meet in their respective state capitals to officially cast their votes for president and vice president. These votes are then sealed and sent to the president of the Senate, who on January 6th opens and reads the votes in the presence of both houses of Congress. The winner is sworn into office at noon on January 20th.

Most of the time, electors cast their votes for the candidate who has received the most votes in that particular state. Some states have laws that require electors to vote for the candidate that won the popular vote, while other electors are bound by pledges to a specific political party.

In most presidential elections, a candidate who wins the popular vote will also receive the majority of the electoral votes, but this is not always the case.

In each state, whichever party garners a majority of popular votes, regardless of how narrow the margin, wins all the electoral votes. By forcing residents in each state ultimately to vote as a block, the system is supposed to ensure that small states’ interests are not drowned out by those of larger states.

In all, there are 538 electoral votes and the number given to each state reflects the sum of the representatives and senators it sends to Congress. It takes 270 or more electoral college votes to win the election.The biggest states California (55), New York (31), Texas (34), Pennsylvania (21) have the most impact on the result of the presidential election.

Usually, the result is nearly the same as it would have been if the election were direct. Yet the system has produced presidents who received a minority of the popular vote but a majority of the electoral votes. NOTE: In the elections of Harry S Truman, Woodrow Wilson and Abraham Lincoln, there were more than two candidates and each of the elected Presidents won more popular votes than any of their respective opponents.

President Bill Clinton was also elected in 1992 with only 43 percent of the popular vote, but 370 electoral votes. In his case there was also more than two candidates.

Several times in recent electoral college history, a relatively small shift in voter preference in key states could have reversed election outcomes.

In prior elections, four U.S candidate for President won the popular vote but lost the presidency: Andrew Jackson won the popular vote but lost the election to John Quincy Adams in 1824; Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote but lost the election to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the election to Benjamin Harrison in 1888, and Al Gore won the popular vote but lost the election to George W. Bush in 2000.

Al Gore had over half a million votes more than George W. Bush, with 50,992,335 votes to Bush’s 50,455,156. But after recount controversy in Florida and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Bush was awarded the state by 537 popular votes. Like most states, Florida has a “winner takes all” rule. This means that the candidate who wins the state by popular vote also gets all of the state’s electoral votes. Bush became president with 271 electoral votes.