Jim Arkfeld: Electoral College vs. popular vote

September 29, 2012 

In the fourth of this "Election 2012" series, we will look at how the president is elected.

On Nov. 6, when we citizens vote, we don't directly choose our president. Others make that choice.

When our country was established, the Founding Fathers decided not to have voters elect the president directly. Many of those leaders didn't trust the masses to make such an important decision. They believed that others would be better suited to select the president. The Electoral College was set up, and made part of the Constitution.

When we vote, we really aren't voting directly for president of the United States. We are choosing electors who actually elect our president in the Electoral College.

Here is how it works. Each state, plus the District of Columbia, has a number of electors equal to its senators and representatives in Congress.

California has 54 electors, for example. Electors are chosen by the political party of the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in their state. These electors travel to the state capital of their respective states to choose the president of the United States.

Electoral votes from all 50 states are compiled to determine a winner.

To win, a candidate must get at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes. A candidate who wins in a state by just one or more votes gets all of the electors for that state. Electors are determined by this "winner-take-all" process in all states, except Maine and Nebraska. It is possible for a candidate to get more popular votes but lose the election. This has happened three times in our history, including the election of 2000.

The Electoral College is one of the flaws of the U.S. Constitution. However, it follows the will of the people most of the time.

Arkfeld has taught secondary American government and American history. He lives in Los Banos.

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