English Across the Curriculum

The American President

The Electoral College

The Americans do not elect their president directly. They vote for an elector - a representative who must vote for the same candidate. There are 538 electors. Together, they are called the Electoral College. Each state has as many electors as it has members in Congress . There are 435 representatives in the House, based on the number of inhabitants each state has, and one hundred Senators, two from each state. There are three additional electors from the District of Columbia .

On Election Day voters go to the polls to choose the electors in their state; however they only see the names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates . When they vote for a candidate of a party they actually vote for an elector of that state. This is called the popular vote.

In almost all of the states the candidate who receives the most popular votes wins all that state's electoral votes. A candidate needs 270 votes to win the election . Even though the winner of the election is known by the following morning he or she is officially elected president in December when the electors meet.

Problems of the Electoral College System

Many people don't agree with the way the Americans elect their president. They think it's wrong for the winning candidate to get all the electoral votes of a state and the loser none. That's why it is possible for a candidate to receive fewer votes from the people and still win the election by winning the "big" states. This happened last in 2016, when the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton got three million popular votes more than Donald Trump, but lost the Electoral College by 227 to 304.

Results of the 2016 General Election
Russ Walker, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Others criticize that candidates concentrate their campaign on the big states, like California, New York, Texas, Florida and others because they have the most electors. Smaller states or those in which a candidate feels safe may get less attention in the campaign .

Those who are in favour of keeping the system say that smaller states are better represented because they have more electors.

History of the Electoral College

The voting system in America goes back to the days of the founding fathers who wrote the first constitution . They did not want the people to vote directly for the president. Because there was no radio and TV they thought that it was too hard for the people to get information about a candidate .

At first, electors could vote for whoever they wanted to, but then political parties became stronger and they had a growing influence on the electors.