Electors in the US: That is their role

The college that elects the US President (“Electoral College”) has 538 electoral men and women. How many voters a state has depends on its population. Most states have majority voting rights: all seats in the state in the “Electoral College” go to the electors of the candidate who has won the majority in that state – no matter how close the majority is. In total, a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to become president.

In extreme cases, the majority voting system can mean that a candidate who has won the most votes in the country still does not become president. Namely, if the other candidate won many populous states and can thus claim all electors of this state for himself.

Bush became president because of the electors – even though he had fewer votes

This was the case, for example, in the presidential election in 2000: George W. Bush received six more electoral votes than his democratic rival Al Gore and thus won the election – even though Gore received more than half a million more votes than Bush would have.

The only exceptions to the majority voting system are Maine and Nebraska, where the electorate is divided proportionally to the result. But this is hardly significant, because with less than two million inhabitants each, these two states send far fewer electors than, for example, the most populous state of California, which sends 55 electors alone.

That was also the case in the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton ran against Donald Trump. Trump won 2.8 million, or 2.09 percent, fewer votes than Clinton. In the “Electoral College”, however, 306 to 232 electors voted for Trump. Above all, he was able to win the heavily populated states with the largest number of electors.

This is how the electorate votes

Around six weeks after the election, the electorate in the 50 US states and in the capital Washington will meet and cast their votes in sealed envelopes, which will then be forwarded to Congress. The Electoral College vote is scheduled for December 19th this year.

On January 6th, the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet in Washington to count the votes of the electoral college. The previous Vice President Mike Pence announced the results as Senate Chairman. The president will be sworn in on January 20th.

Are the electorate bound by the election result?

Typically, the electorate does not have to vote the way the electorate voted in their state – but the overwhelming majority of the electorate do. The US Constitution does not require members of the electoral college to do so. However, there are individual states that require their electorates by law to vote on the outcome of the election in the state. In practice, it is extremely rare that an electorate votes differently than what the election result suggests. In the course of US history, according to official figures, more than 99 percent of the electorate voted in line with the result in their state.

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