The Electoral College dates back to the founding fathers who created it as a method of electing the president of the United States. Two methods were on the table for consideration: One was to elect the president by a popular vote; the other was to have Congress elect the president. The Electoral College is a compromise between the two. To change the Electoral College system, Congress would have to pass a proposal and send it to the Senate for ratification to amend the Constitution.

How It Works

Each state has a certain number of votes.

With the Electoral College, each state gets a certain number of electoral votes, determined by how many Members of Congress it has. The total number of electors is 538, and to win the presidency, a candidate must receive at least 270 electoral votes. Each state holds an election to determine who the electors will be. The electors cast their votes for the president. Typically, electors vote the way the people of their state voted them in to do. But, electors do not have to honor that. For example, in 1976, a Washington elector who the people chose to vote for Gerald Ford, voted for Ronald Reagan, and in 1988, an elector from West Virginia voted for Sen. Lloyd Bentsen for president instead of for Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis.



Once a presidential candidate wins the popular vote from a state, he gets all of that state’s electoral votes except in Maine and Nebraska because those states divide the electoral vote. Typically, the results work out that the presidential winner wins the electoral vote along with the popular vote. But on a few occasions, this has not proved to be the case. In 1824, 1876 and 1888, there was a discrepancy between the presidential winner and the winner of the popular vote – John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B. Hayes and Benjamin Harrison, respectively. All three won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote. The issue did not come up again until the 2000 election of George W. Bush against Al Gore, where controversy loomed regarding whether Gore won the popular vote.

The Past

Election billboards.

When the founding fathers created the Electoral College, people who lived in one part of the country most likely would not be familiar with a candidate from another part of the country. In a popular election, many voters may not have known anything about a particular candidate, including his qualifications or his political positions. An elector, however, would be active in political events and would be more knowledgeable in this area.


Technology enables knowledge.

Times have changed since the founding fathers created the Electoral College. People can live in California, for example, and know just as much about a candidate from New York as a New Yorker would because of the advancements in communications. So, an argument for a popular vote persists.