How Do the Electoral College Votes Work?

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The Electoral College is a process established for the purpose of electing U.S. presidents in which each state and the District of Columbia have a certain number of electoral votes, based on the number of U.S. Representatives and Senators from the state. Electors are chosen from each state and cast ballots on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of an election year.

The electors meet in their own states to cast two separate ballots: one for president and one for vice president. Most states operate under a system in which the candidate who wins the majority of votes in the state receives all of the electoral votes for that state, though no law actually requires electors to vote for a specific candidate. Maine and Nebraska, however, employ a proportional system in which the votes may be split between candidates. Members of both houses of Congress convene in the House Chamber on Jan. 6 of the following year for the official counting of the electoral votes. A candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes in order to be elected. If no majority is reached, the election is sent to the House of Representatives, where the president is then elected by majority vote. As of 2014, several states have as few as three electoral votes, while California has the most votes, at 55.