Your guide to the US Electoral College voting system

US voting system

Inevitably, the election is nearly upon us, as the 2020 US election odds take centre stage on the majority of betting sites, and news outlets are filled with the stern faces of both Trump and Biden, this election’s front-running candidates.

As you may have found in previous years, when the results of the vote are revealed, the outcome isn’t always quite what it seems.

You see, the candidate who receives the most public votes isn’t necessarily the next resident of the White House. In America, despite citizens being urged to vote, the next President isn’t chosen directly by these voters, but rather the final decision is made by the Electoral College. If this makes you scratch your head and frown, read on as we explain the US Electoral voting system.

So, who are the public voting for?

When the American public go to their local poll station, the vote they’re casting is more for the party they believe in, rather than the person. In short, the public are voting for the group of officials who make up the representatives for their area, within the Electoral College.

How does it work?

In total, there are 538 electors in total, making up the Electoral College. The number of electors that each state has is roughly decided by the size of its population. So, the more people, the more electors that will be assigned. California has the most electors out of all of the states, standing at a grand total of 55! Whilst the smallest of the states, such as Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota only hold a minimum of three.

Each elector will represent one electoral vote, and these votes will then decide the winner of the election. A candidate must receive the majority of these votes – 270 or above – to win the presidency.

Ordinarily, a state will award all of their Electoral College votes to the candidate who won the poll amongst the general public of that area. For example, if the Republican candidate gained 50.1% of the vote in Texas, then they would receive all 38 of that state’s Electoral College votes.

This is why presidential candidates are seen to target areas that are thought of as “swing states” – or states where the vote could go either way. After all, it would take just that one extra vote from the Electoral College to get a candidate closer to 270, and over the line into presidency.

Why is this system used?

Going all the way back to 1787, when the US constitution was being drawn up and finalised, conducting a national popular vote to elect a new President was an almost impossible feat. The size of the country and the difficulty of communication at this time were large contributing factors. However, some form of democracy was still required, and the framers of the constitution were eager for the people to get a say in their new ruler, so, they created the Electoral College.

Smaller states were found to favour this system as they felt that it gave them more of a voice, than a nationwide popular vote. But, since the number of electoral votes were determined overall by the size of a state’s population, the southern states also had a lot more influence in electing a new President this way, more so than a direct public vote would have given them.

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