How is the U.S. President Elected?
As we prepare for the 2024 Presidential Elections, I want to attempt to explain or simplify the very complex process known as the Electoral College that is used to select our U.S. President and Vice President.
The election of the president of the United States is a two-step process:
- Voters cast ballots on Election Day in each state. In 48 states*, the candidate who gets the most statewide citizen votes is to be awarded all of the “electoral votes” for that state.
There are a total of 538 electoral votes. These are divided among the states based on each state’s proportional size — the bigger the state’s population the more “votes” it gets. Each state gets 2 votes for its two US Senators, and 1 vote for each member it has in the House of Representatives. In California, we have 2 U.S. Senators and 53 members of the House of Representatives. This means whichever candidate in California that gets the most statewide votes will receive 55 electoral votes.
Of the 538 electoral votes, an absolute majority of 270 or more is required to elect the president and vice president. If no candidate achieves an absolute majority, a contingent election is held by the House of Representatives to elect the president and by the Senate to elect the vice president.
*In Maine and Nebraska, 1 electoral vote goes per the plurality of the popular votes of each congressional district (for the U.S. House of Representatives); and 2 electoral votes go to the statewide popular vote. In all other states, the total state electoral votes goes to the candidate that gets the most statewide votes.
- The “electors” from each of the 50 states gather in December and they vote for president. The candidate who receives a majority of electoral votes becomes President.
How are electors selected?
This process can be complicated. While this process varies by state, generally, the parties either nominate slates of potential electors at their State Party conventions or they chose them by a vote of the party’s Central Committee. This happens in each State for each party by whatever rules the State party (and sometimes the national party) have for the process. (https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college)
For a more detailed information, here is a link: About the Electors provided by the National Archives.
Must electors vote per their state’s popular vote?
On July 6, 2020, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled, “A State may enforce an elector’s pledge to support his party’s nominee—and the state voters’ choice—for President. … Electors are not free agents; they are to vote for the candidate whom the State’s voters have chosen.”
However, there is no federal law that requires electors to vote as they have pledged, but 29 states and the District of Columbia have legal control over how their electors vote in the Electoral College. This means their electors are bound by state law and/or by state or party pledge to cast their vote for the candidate that wins the statewide popular vote. California is included in the 29 states with this requirement, per EC § 6906. This means that 21 states have no requirements for their electors. Electors that do not vote for whom they pledged to vote for are known as “faithless electors”.
Here are additional resources for for more information:
California Secretary of State – Electoral College Information
US House of Representatives – Electoral College Fast Facts
The Electoral College
More About Electoral College
Electoral College History
About the Electors
How are my electors appointed?
State Allocations of all 538 Electoral Votes
Roles and Responsibilities in the Electoral College Process