What Determines the Number of Presidential Electors a State Gets?

Mike McCune/CC-BY 2.0

The electors given to each state is determined by the number of elected officials in the United States Congress. These electors form the Electoral College and help elect the U.S. president and vice president.

What is the Electoral College? There are 538 members in the electoral college. The founding fathers of the U.S. created the Electoral College equally to all states. Otherwise, smaller states would be limited in the election process compared to states with large populations when it came to the popular vote. The founding fathers were also afraid of a direct election of the president. They feared one person could manipulate public opinion to gain power. They also thought the electors would be more qualified to select a proper president than the general public.

How Electors are Calculated Each state is given one elector per member of the House of Representatives. States are also given one elector per Senator. The District of Columbia is given three electors. The minimum number of electors per state is three. This is because every state has two senators and each state has at least one member of the House of Representatives. The number of representatives varies because it is determined by the population of the state.

How Many Votes are Needed to Win the Presidency? The president is elected by the electoral college, not by the popular vote. However, the electoral vote should reflect the votes of the people. A candidate can win the popular vote and not be elected president by the electoral college. Most states require their electors to vote for the candidate receiving the most votes in the state but not all states have this requirement. Nebraska and Maine require their electors to vote for candidates proportionally to the popular vote for their state, meaning the electors do not have to all vote for the same candidate. To win the election, the presidential candidate must receive a majority of the 538 votes. That majority equals 270 votes.

How are Electors Chosen? Political parties in each state select potential members before the election. On election day, the voter’s select their electors by voting for president. How a state chooses potential members varies from state to state. Generally, the electors are chosen at the party conventions. The U.S. Constitution contains very few details about the qualifications of electors. It does require that no representative, senator or person holding an officer be appointed as an elector. An elector also cannot work for the federal government. The 14th Amendment says that those who have given aid or comfort to enemies will be disqualified from being an elector. This amendment was added after the Civil War.

When do Electors Vote? The Electoral College meets in December after the presidential election to cast their votes. Each state has a meeting for their state’s electors to cast their votes. After the meeting, each state’s votes are sent to Congress and the National Archives. The electoral votes are counted during a joint session of Congress on January 6, following the November election. The vice president then announces the result. The president-elect and vice president-elect are then sworn in on January 20.