What Is the Electoral College?

Many people have heard about the electoral college but are not sure what it means. It is used during presidential elections in the United States and determines the outcome of those elections.

Every four years, millions of people head to the ballot box to cast a vote for president in the U.S. While they are doing so, their vote is counted. However, the popular vote is not the determining factor in presidential elections. The electoral college determines who becomes president. The electoral college was created as part of the U.S. Constitution. It states that someone can only become president if he or she has the majority of 538 votes from the electors. As of 2017, 270 votes in the electoral college is what it takes to win the presidency.

Why Was the Electoral College Created?
During the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, convention members discussed how to elect a president fairly. Most members agreed upon the electoral college because they felt that it would put less populous states on equal footing with more populous ones. Convention members felt that if the presidential vote was based solely on the popular vote, then presidential candidates may feel tempted to just visit the populous states while ignoring the least populous ones. The Constitution gives each state an appropriate amount of electors based on population. This was the best way that convention members found to equalize presidential elections. The electoral college is comprised of electors. Electors are nominated by their political parties in each state. These electors are selected during state conventions. During the presidential election, these 538 electors cast their vote for president.

Who Are the Electors in the Electoral College
The Constitution does not have much in the way of stipulations about who can serve as an elector. The political parties in the state are usually tasked with choosing their electors. This means that anybody can serve as electors. However, many of the electors are involved in political life, although this is not a prerequisite. Members of Congress and anyone holding a profit or trust position in the U.S. is not eligible to serve in the electoral college.

How the Electoral College Chooses a President
Elections happen on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in the U.S., and presidential elections occur every four years This date was chosen because back when the electoral college was created, farmers processed their harvest until that time, so it was an acceptable time to take off to vote. The Constitution states that electors need to meet in their states. This was done to stop any chance of vote manipulation. Electors cast their votes separately for the president and then the vice president. Congress then meets on January 6 the following year to certify the votes.

The Future of the Electoral College
Even though some people from time to time mention doing away with the electoral college, it has been the process for electing presidents since its inception in 1804. Some proposals have been propositioned through Congress to change the process of the electoral college yet none of them have been successful. Those who wish to challenge the electoral college feel that the popular vote should be the determining factor in who becomes president.