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The US Electoral College, How It Works, Controversy And Election Reform

Updated on October 7, 2015
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Degrees in medicine, psychology & sports. 20+ yrs research/treatment in allopathic & alternative medicines, brain studies, space medicine.


Does the US Electoral College Need Reform Or Elimination?

The US Electoral College is not actually an academic college or any type of school facility or higher education institute. It is a group of people involved in electing the President of the United States.

This particular group is defined by a system originally designed under Article II of the US Constitution and Constitutional Amendments 12 and 14.

Briefly, in US Presidential races, each US State has an assigned number of electoral votes (by electors) that is equal to the number of its US House Representatives in Congress, plus two for its US Senators. Washington DC has three electoral votes. However, the DC electors are not the same people as the Representatives and Senators.

Additional foundation information is found below at pages containing the US Constitution and its Amendments.

Electoral Votes Cast in the 1796 Presidential Election

Jefferson lost the US Presidency by 2 ELECTORAL votes, but won VP as electors couldn’t distinguish between POTUS & VP choices until the 12th Amendment!
Jefferson lost the US Presidency by 2 ELECTORAL votes, but won VP as electors couldn’t distinguish between POTUS & VP choices until the 12th Amendment!

Changes in Electoral Processes

The Numbers of Electors assigned to each of the individual US States are listed below, just after a graphic image that represents the confusion embedded in the long-ago 1796 Presidential Election. Confusion about the Electoral College has been in place for centuries at this point.

The Electoral College of 1796 could not distinguish between the US Presidential and the US Vice Presidential Candidates. In 1796, ballots included only one list of candidates - a single list of all men running for all the offices.

Formerly, the US President was the man that received the highest number of Electoral Votes. The Vice President, then, was the runner up. He was the man that received the second highest number of electoral votes. The two men, therefore, could be of different political parties.

The 12th Amendment to the US Constitution changed the electoral process and the selection of electors. In the 20th century, further amendments made it possible for women and Blacks also to hold these offices. By the time of the 2016 US Presidential Election, our nation had functioned under one African-American POTUS for eight years - Barack Obama, but under no female head of state. That comprises, since George Washington in 1789, 227 years of all male Presidents.

Under the graphics presented of the 1796 Presidential Election below, a list of US States and the number of electoral votes each one held for election years 2012 and 2016 are given.

There is no Federal US Law to require Electors to vote the way the majority of people voted for President in their state.

Consitution of the United States of America

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Close-upClose-up of signatures.
Close-up | Source
Close-up of signatures.
Close-up of signatures.

The US Constitution and the Individual States

The US Constitution governs National Elections.
The US Constitution governs National Elections. | Source

From 2012 - 2016


Montana 3

Nebraska 5

Nevada 5

New Hampshire 4

New Jersey 15

New Mexico 5

New York 31

North Carolina 15

North Dakota 3

Ohio 20

Oklahoma 7

Oregon 7

Pennsylvania 21

Rhode Island 4

South Carolina 8

South Dakota 3

Tennessee 11

Texas 34

Utah 5

Vermont 3

Virginia 13

Washington 11

West Virginia 5

Wisconsin 10

Wyoming 3

Numbers of Electoral Votes


Alabama 9

Alaska 3

Arizona 10

Arkansas 6

California 55

Colorado 9

Connecticut 7

Delaware 3

District of Columbia 3

Florida 27

Georgia 15

Hawaii 4

Idaho 4

Illinois 21

Indiana 11

Iowa 7

Kansas 6

Kentucky 8

Louisiana 9

Maine 4

Maryland 10

Massachusetts 12

Michigan 17

Minnesota 10

Mississippi 6

Missouri 11

Electors are often chosen for their past performance and service to a particular political party, so they are not unbiased.

The American Presidency

The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2011
The American Presidency: Origins and Development, 1776-2011

This book contains 555 pages of material produced by constitutional scholars at the University of Virginia, Virginia being an important member of the Original 13 Colonies. It is written in an interesting style and portrays each US President to 2011 as a person who had opportunities to change America, Including Barack Obama in his first two years in office. It is a must-read work for anyone voting for President.


The Two Party System

Electors are Not Party Convention Delegates

As such a system, the US Electoral College is administered by NARA, which is the National Archives and Records Administration. The system was looked on an early national compromise between having a popular democratic vote (one among the nation's citizens) and having Congress select the US President (POTUS). It is confusing to many people, and school children sometimes struggle with the concept. It is similar in certain aspects to statistical weighted averages and standardized measures, but that is even more confusing to a greater number of people.

Simply put, the people of the United States do not vote for the President.

The people vote for the Electors, who are limited in number to each state by legislation. The State with the greatest number of Electors is California with 55 and that with the fewest Electors is actually a few States and DC with only 3.

The Electors, in turn, vote for the President and their vote is not tabulated completely until the December after the November election year. The votes of the Electors are assumed to reflect the wishes of the US population, but it is possible that they do not. There is no Federal US Law to require Electors to vote the way the majority of people voted for President in their state.

However, some States have laws that do require Electors to vote just as the majority of people did in the Presidential election. Twenty-six states have these requirements, but in 24 other States, the electors may vote any way that they want.

The people are permitted to vote for the Electors during a Statewide general election, but they are not allowed to determine electoral candidates themselves. The people must vote on the Electors that the political parties have chosen. The Democrats and Republicans choose these candidates for Electors at their local State Conventions or within each party's central committee. So, there are Republican electors and Democratic Electors.

In the state general election, the names of the Electors may not even be shown on the ballot. Each voter in some states is simply asked to choose their Presidential pick on the ballot. Voters may never know who the Electors of their state are, but, they can find out by requesting to see the official State Governor's Certificate of Ascertainment that must list the names of the Electors.

Following the State's general election, each Governor is required to make up 7 originals of a Certificate of Ascertainment for the Electors - winners and losers. These certificates look different from state to state and have no standard form. Each original contains a list of the Electors and the number of votes they won. It is also required to have a list of losers and the number of votes they won as well.

If you want to find out who the Electors of your state are after your state's next general election, contact:.

  • The Archivist of the United States
  • National Archives and Records Administration
  • c/o Office of the Federal Register (NF)
  • 8601 Adelphi Road
  • College Park, MD 20740-6001

Opinion for Change: Sabato's Reforms for Electoral College

Opinion for Change. The "Real" USA.

An Example Close-Up: The 2008 Presidential Election

The Situation In December 2008:

On December 15, 2008 all Electors must meet in their own States. Federal law does not allow any alternate dates. These meetings are usually held in the individual State capitals and Electors vote for President and Vice President. If any Electors don't show up without notice, those votes are lost. Any vacancies must be filled by the States themselves at least six days BEFORE the meetings, or this time on December 9, 2008.

This means that emergency vacancies occurring on December 15, 2008 can't be filled. The votes won't be counted in Congress until January 9, 2009. It is possible that the majority of the population will choose one Presidential Candidate, and the results of the Electoral Vote - the actual winner -- will be the Other Candidate, but the chance is small.

The Situation Overall Then and Now

Electors are often chosen for their past performance and service to a particular political party, so they are not unbiased. In fact, many of them are State Elected Officials (SEOs), Local elected Officials (LEOs), leaders of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), party big-wigs, or folks with friendship/family bonds or political affiliations with Presidential candidates. The election process is therefore not unbiased at all.

I would like to see America develop a strong third party, because I see too much money tied up in political campaigning and candidacies. This is the reason that some minds believe that America is not run "...of the people, by the people, for the people," as Abraham Lincoln stated it should be, but by and for corporations, lobbyists, special interest groups. Indeed, many believe that the presidency is bought. Many would like to see effective election reform to endure that elections are not biased.

Opinion: Keep the Electoral College, By Comentator Lou Guzzo.

© 2007 Patty Inglish


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    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 5 years ago from Canada

      Excellent and very informative Hub. Thank you!

    • profile image

      belfast maine 8 years ago

      Great Hub you have here :) Please check out my Belfast Maine website would love to network!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from North America

      Thanks for your insights, al warner - certainly something to mull over. Happy New Year.

    • profile image

      al warner 8 years ago

      Unfortunely this system still leaves us middle class tax payers at the mercy of the those who have political ties who's only agenda is to line there own pockets.

      These electors do not care about whats really happening to our county for if they did then they would relize that the very people that they put in power are the very people who's only goal is to bring this country to it knees and totally clasp the middleclass. However, what they don't relize is that once there done with us thier next.

      This country's faith is in the hands of 538 people who can be bought an paid for. Millions of people are at their mercy. In my oppion if any change is going to happen we have to look at who represents us at the bottom of the poltical ladder. We need to stop puting lawers and education professionals in the white house. In order for the middleclass to have even a snow ball chance we need to elect people from the middleclass who knows what it means to work for a living.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Thanks for the information susan.

    • profile image

      susan 9 years ago

      The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

      Every vote would be politically relevant and equal in a presidential election.

      The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes—that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

      The National Popular Vote bill has passed 21 state legislative chambers, including one house in Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Washington, and both houses in California, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, and Maryland. These four states possess 50 electoral votes — 19% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Chef Jeff! I am so glad that you came and visited this Hub and was able to use the information.

      When I was in high school and heard about the electoral Colelge, I was completely confused too. :)

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 9 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      I am one of those who favors a revision of the Electoral College. I think the system is basically flawed and that we need to revisit how it works in this era.

      I enjoyed you hub and used some of the facts you gave to help my students better understand how this process works. As an adult I am often confused - I can only imagine what my students must be thinking!

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      Thank you, Darren. I notice a link to AuthorHouse on your site and I have professionally reviewed some pretty good books from that outfit!

    • profile image

      Darren C. Bowman 9 years ago

      There is a complete chapter in my book Disgruntled America/A Voice for the Silent Majority, That specifically explains why and how the electoral college works just as it was intended by the Founding Fathers. This may seem like a cheap attempt at a plug, but truthfully the explanation is too lengthy for a mere comment. for more info visit

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      If no citizen voted, who would be President? The electors would likley decide for themselves.

    • profile image

      Detroit 9 years ago

      Does it even matter if we vote or not anymore?

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from North America

      Thanks for the comment Kathy; good observation -we do need to study and stay up to date.

    • profile image

      Kathy Caudle 10 years ago

      August 27th, '07

      It's a complicated process, that requires critical study, almost as if it's intended for ordinary folks like myself not to be able to figure out the presidential electoral vote allocation and election. Careful study however, applying oneself to such studious underataking, does yield helpful information.

      Kathy Caudle

      Salt Lake City, UT

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 10 years ago from North America

      Thanks, peeling. I always wondered why I don't know my state's Electors. Now I know how to find out!

    • peeling profile image

      peeling 10 years ago

      Nice hub, Patty. Very informative. Thanks.