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This is how the electoral college works

Unlike most of the world’s democracies, the US president is not elected by referendum. Is that how it works?

3 min read


This is how the electoral college works
This is how the electoral college works

Unlike most of the world’s democracies, the people of the United States do not directly elect their president, but rather the people who will vote on their behalf. This is known as an electoral college.

This Tuesday, November 3rd, Americans will vote between a second four-year term for Republican Donald Trump or handing the White House over to Democrat Joe Biden.

The electoral college was developed by the founding fathers of the American Union and designated that 538 voters or delegates (equivalent to the 435 members of the House of Representatives, the 100 members of the Senate, and the three delegates of the District of Columbia) vote for president.

The sum of these 538 voting states is distributed across the 50 states of the northern country according to their population. Each of these representatives cast one ballot, which must be for the most elected candidate in each state. However, in the special case of Nebraska and Maine, the vote is distributed based on the percentage of votes received by the candidates.

Once the vote is cast, the representative of each state issues a certificate declaring the candidate the winner. The names of these voters are included in the electoral college and are submitted to Congress and the nation’s archives for official record.

The members of the electoral college will cast their votes separately for the President and Vice-President on December 14, 2020. These votes are sent to the President of the Senate and the President of the country.

Eventually, those votes will be counted in a joint congressional session on January 6th and chaired by the country’s vice president – in this case Mike Pence – who will officially announce who has been elected President and Vice President of the United States.

The winner will be sworn in on January 20, 2021.

The magic number: 270

In order for a candidate to be elected president, they must receive at least 270 votes. If neither candidate receives that number, Congress elects the President and Vice-President.

The House of Representatives would choose the President from among the three most elected candidates to which any state delegation would have the right to vote. For its part, the Senate would appoint the Vice President.

It should be noted that this situation has not occurred since 1825 when John Quincy Adams was elected.

Referendum against collegiate vote

This whole process means that the candidate with the most votes may not be the one who was elected president.

In 2000, Republican George W. Bush was elected with 271 votes after the Supreme Court awarded him Florida voters with only 573 votes, despite Al Gore receiving more popular votes.

We saw this scenario even in 2016 when Donald Trump was elected by college voters despite his rival Hillary Clinton having more popular votes.

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