The Electoral College

There are no tests, you can’t get a degree, it has no campus. It’s not even a virtual place!

The Electoral College was established by the framers of the Constitution as the process by which the United States would elect its President and Vice President. The name came later; only electors are mentioned in the Constitution.

The decennial census sets the number of electors each state gets, out of a fixed total of 538. This is one reason why conducting the census has been so contentious this year. The states then choose their electors, and those processes vary.

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The Electoral College process was devised as a compromise between factions at the Constitutional Congress. The number of electors equals the total of the Senate and House of Representatives; plus three electors for the District of Columbia. The Electoral College was divisive from its inception – Thomas Jefferson called it a blot on the Constitution – and remains so nearly 250 years later. It is the reason that a president can be elected while losing the popular vote. This has happened four times, in 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.

American History Online has explainers, historical documents, images, news articles, and more on the Electoral College. Another resource for understanding and analyzing this institution is CQ Press Library.

The National Archives has developed a website with all manner of information about the Electoral College process. (By law, the Archivist of the United States is responsible for collating all the state electors’ votes, and after inspection by the Office of the Federal Register, submitting them to Congress.) You will find links to the relevant sections of the Constitution, to historical background information, the state processes for choosing electors, FAQs, and more.

Even though you are not directly voting for the President, your vote is crucial. Voting is happening now in Indiana; here’s how to do it and here is where to do it.