What is the Electoral College?

Vice President Biden is not the President-elect yet; the Electoral College still has to meet before it’s official.

The Basics

The Electoral College is a system that helps us decide who our next president is. If you have ever seen an electoral college map, each state is given a certain number of votes based on how many representatives they have in the House and their two Senators. For example, Georgia has 16 electoral votes. We have 14 representatives and then our two Senators, adding up to give us 16 votes. In order to win the presidency, a candidate must get 270 votes out of 385. Some states are heavily Democratic, such as California and Massachusetts, and some states are heavily Republican, think Mississippi and Alabama. States that have been a toss-up are called “swing states” or “battleground states,” and those states are the ones where presidential candidates spend the majority of their time before the election. There were several swing states in this election, including Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Nevada, and Arizona.

The History

The electoral college was founded right after the founding of the United States of America. Many of our founders were scared of a despotic ruler coming into power. Still, they did not want Congress to be the only ones voting on the president, in fear of there being too much power held in both the Legislative and Executive branches. They came up with the idea of allowing each of the states to pick a handful of people to represent them as electors. Then came the question, “how many electors should each state get?” The Southern state’s population at the time was comprised of roughly 40% enslaved peoples who were not able to vote. This meant that it was not as simple as basing the number of electors on a state’s population. So they came up with the 3/5 Compromise, which dictated that three out of every five enslaved persons would be counted as part of the population when determining the number of voters within a state, which was done mostly to get approval from the Southern states, and is highly controversial today. For centuries, the voting system has marginalized Black people. The 3/5 Compromise, though it is still written in the Constitution today, was not the end of Black people being fairly represented in the system. Voter suppression is real, and it primarily targets Black and Brown communities. 

At the time of the creation of the electoral college, there were no political parties. Electors were meant to vote based on their own feelings towards a candidate, but now, electors always vote in line with their party. This is one of the many ways in which the electoral college is outdated.

What Happens if There is a Tie?

There is a way that the two candidates can end up in a tie, but it has only happened twice. If there is no single candidate that gets 270 votes, it goes to the House of Representatives, where they vote on the president. This is called a Contingent election. The states vote “en bloc,” meaning that each state gets one vote. In a state like Georgia, even if the majority of the state voted to elect a Democrat, our bloc would vote Republican because there are eight Republican representatives and six Democratic representatives. A candidate needs an absolute majority in the House in order to be sworn in as president-elect.

The Electoral College Today

The electors will be voting on December 14th this year to certify the election and formally make Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris the President-elect and the Vice President-elect. Each elector will vote in their state, and they will vote along how their state voted. The only places where the electors split the vote are in Nebraska and Maine, where they use the “congressional district method.”

The electoral college is the reason why there are only ever Democrats or Republicans elected as president. The chances of a third-party candidate winning a state’s popular vote are slim to none. It also can lead to a candidate winning the popular vote but losing the presidency, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did in the 2016 election.