Electoral College

The Framers of the Constitution were fearful of direct democracy and the "tyranny of the majority" it might produce. Consequently, they created a complex "filtering" process known as the Electoral College which was intended to insulate the selection of the President from the whims of the people. The Electoral College is comprised of "electors," individuals who cast the electoral votes for their states. Originally, electors were free to cast their votes as they chose. Today, electors are "bound" or "committed" by state law to vote for the candidate who received the most popular votes in their state. With the exceptions of Maine and Nebraska, states give all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins a majority of votes in the state. (The procedure for electing the President is outlined in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.)

Each state has a number of electoral votes equal to the number of Senators and House Members it is eligible to send to the Congress. For example, the state of New York elects two Senators (as every other state does) and thirty-one Members of the House. New York, then, has thirty-three electoral votes. The total number of electoral votes in the Electoral College is 538--one for each of the one hundred Senators and 435 House Members plus the three allotted to the District of Columbia by the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution.

Electors are chosen by the political parties in each state. When voters cast their ballots in favor of a presidential candidate they are actually voting for the electors of the same party as that candidate. When a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, he or she wins that state's electoral votes. Those votes are formally cast by the electors chosen to represent the winning candidate's party in each state.

Historical Documents

AntiFederalist Papers

No. 72
- On the Electroal College; On Reelgibility of the President

Reasearch and Study Helps

What is the Electoral College and how does it work?

Think About It

What are the most important factors in electoral outcomes?
What makes one candidate win and another one lose?