Electoral College Essay: Example and Tips

The Electoral College in the United States is a system of indirect (two-stage) elections, through which the President of the United States and Vice President of the United States are elected – the only two United States officials elected in a federal (covering the entire territory of the country) electoral district. Currently the number of electors is 538.


In the period of the formation of the statehood of the United States in different states, there was a different idea about the electoral rights of citizens: first of all, these differences concerned the rights of the black population, as well as property, education, and the qualification of settlement. The independence of the states was of fundamental importance: small states feared that their opinion would not play any role against the background of the will of large states. By 1787, there were no strong political parties, national media and fast communication systems in the United States. In such conditions, even information about the death of a candidate could not be promptly conveyed to voters. The founding fathers of the United States assumed that, due to the illiteracy of the population of the country, populists and extremists of various kinds could acquire the sympathies of voters.

One of the proposed was the system of electing the president by the members of the Congress, however, there were fears that the president, elected by a small group of people who gather regularly, may be overly dependent on this group.

On September 6, 1787, the Convention approved the Electoral College as a way of electing the President of the United States, in which electors from each state would vote as a single block rather than distribute their votes in proportion to the will of voters.


Election day of voting falls on the 41st day after the day of national voting. The national vote takes place on Tuesday after the first Monday of November every fourth year. In the College, there is a separate vote on the candidacy of the vice-president, which is included in the ballot as a single point with the presidential candidacy from the same party. States have the right to govern their own electors, and in 24 states the wrong voting of an elector from these states is punishable by law, although these laws have never been applied in practice. The College is not a kind of jointly sitting body: on the same day electors of each state gather in the capital of their state and vote (in each state, except for those where electors are appointed proportionally, this vote is unanimous), then their votes are summed up.

Board of the College

The selection of electors takes place at party congresses in each state or is chosen by state party leadership. Usually, senators and congressmen, popular politicians or people who are personally close to the respective presidential candidate act as electors. Thus, by election day in each state there are two lists of electors represented by the Democratic and Republican parties. In some states, the names of electors are recorded on ballots, in others – not. After summing up the results of the vote, the governor approves the list of electors represented by the party whose candidate won the elections in this state. In the event that an independent candidate has received the majority of votes in the state, the procedure for the appointment of electors takes place according to state law. Electors elect the president. Formally, they must vote in accordance with the will of the voters, but there is no federal law with such a requirement, there is only a penalty for voting not in accordance with the will of the majority. The maximum fine according to state law is $ 1,000. In addition, in almost all states, electors are responsible to the party that appointed them. So far, none of the electors have been prosecuted for voting for another candidate.

The number of electors from each state is equal to the number of its representatives in Congress (2 senators and members of the House of Representatives, the number of which is equal to the number of constituencies in the state). The District of Columbia, that is, the capital of the country – Washington, is not represented in Congress, but it has as many electors in the presidential election as it would have if it were a state, but no more than the least populated state (Twenty-third Amendment to the US Constitution). The least populated state of Wyoming is represented by three electors, and so is the District of Columbia. The largest number of electors (55 people) is in the most populated state – California (represented by 53 members of the House of Representatives and 2 senators in Congress), and the smallest are Montana, Alaska, Vermont, Delaware, Wyoming, South Dakota and North Dakota (three each). Florida and New York are represented by 29 electors, Texas – 38.

Each state decides how to distribute the voices assigned to it. In most states, the votes of all electors are automatically received by the candidate who receives the simple majority of the state’s votes . The exceptions are the states of Maine (4 electors) and Nebraska (5), the laws of which provide a different order. In each of the constituencies of these states, one elector is elected, and the remaining two seats are determined in accordance with the voting in the state as a whole. For the first time such a division of votes actually took place in the 2008 elections in Nebraska, where 4 votes for electors (2 for two constituencies and 2 for the state as a whole) went to John McCain, and 1 vote for electors from 1 constituency for Nebraska – Barack Obama. The split of votes in Maine for the first time took place in the elections of 2016, when Hillary Clinton got 3 electoral votes, and Donald Trump received one vote.

There is a so-called Amar Plan, according to which the states that have joined the agreement will oblige their electors to cast their votes to a candidate who will receive a majority of votes not in his state, but across the country. As soon as the total number of electors in such states exceeds the minimum required for victory (270 votes), the theoretical possibility of winning a candidate with a smaller number of votes will be excluded. This should lead to the introduction of popular direct elections in practice, subject to the electors’ compliance with their agreement. By the end of 2014, the states of Maryland, New Jersey, Illinois, Hawaii, Washington, Massachusetts, DC, Vermont, California, Rhode Island and New York joined the agreement, with 165 votes out of 270 needed.

Resolving difficult cases and “third parties”

The winner is the candidate who receives the most electoral votes. In the event that none of the candidates received this majority, the President is elected by the House of Representatives from among no more than three candidates who received the majority (Thomas Jefferson was elected, who received an equal number of votes with Aaron Barr in 1800, and John C. Adams when one candidate did not receive a majority in 1824, and Adams won fewer electoral votes and voters than Andrew Jackson). In the 12th Amendment to the US Constitution, there is a procedure for the case when this will not lead to results.

In practice, with the actual two-party system from the middle of the 19th century, almost all two candidates from the two main parties, the Democratic and the Republican, receive the electoral vote. The winner is the candidate who gains more votes than his only rival.

From the beginning of the 20th century, the weakly influential and mostly short-lived “third” parties and forces only occasionally achieved at least relatively significant results (from about 500 electors): 88 electors and second place in 1912 (Progressive Party), 46 electors in 1968 (Independent Party), 13 electors in 1924 (Progressive Party), as well as 1 elector against the wishes of voters in his state in 1972 (Libertarian party), although the “third candidate” also received a significant number of votes in 1992 (19%) and in 1996 (8%).

Discussion around the Electoral College

In modern American society, the electoral college system is repeatedly discussed in terms of its fairness and modernity, the question of its reform or abolition is raised. Repeatedly, both arguments “for” and arguments “against” are discussed.

Arguments for Electoral College


Proponents of preserving the Electoral College claim that, for all its seeming illogicality, the electoral system reflects the principles of federalism in the state system: each subject (state) uniquely determines “its” president from the total number of candidates.

This mechanism is a kind of intermediate between direct elections in a unitary state and elections of leading positions in the confederation (an equal union of states). Conditionally speaking, if we imagine a confederation with a common president, where each state has 1 vote in the election of this president, then the same system of electors would turn out (only with 1 elector from each state). In this case, this is not about equal votes from each state, but about votes depending on the population of each state. Therefore, the number of electors from each state is not one, but the number that allows at least approximately to recreate the proportions of the population of different states.

To win, you need broad support of population

Organizing an election victory requires attracting the interests of many states, and not just the concentration of elites in major cities. The victory of the candidate, which is supported by only a few states is eliminated (or extremely unlikely). The predominance of capitals and some key areas has led to the death of many large states and empires.

There are examples of the opposite, for example, Abraham Lincoln won in 1860, losing in all the southern states. True, the US Civil War soon began.

Minority rights

It is argued that the principle of “the winner takes everything” forces the candidate to pay special attention to the interests of minorities, which can provide him with decisive support.


The Electoral College is not an automatic system; it consists of people, and although they usually vote according to the standard prescription of the law, they have the right to make decisions in difficult cases. For example, if an elected president dies before a vote of the Electoral College, it may elect another person from the same party. In direct elections, there is no such possibility and we need one more election.

In the 1872 election, Democratic presidential candidate Horace Greeley really died before voting of the Electoral College. This was not a problem, since he was a losing candidate anyway. Republican electors voted for the victorious Ulysses Grant, while the Democrats symbolically distributed the votes between different party leaders (according to some information, three voted for the deceased).

In the elections of 1912, one week before the national vote, the vice-presidential candidate James Sherman under William Taft died (and the acting vice-president); his name remained on the ballot. Taft also lost the election; Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected.

The fight against fraud

Thanks to the system, a massive “throwing” of votes in one state can affect the distribution of electors only in that state and is more easily accessible to the most thorough investigation. The recount takes place only by state, not at the federal level. Moreover, since each state has the right to decide for itself how the popular vote affects the voting of electors, the problem of falsification is an internal problem of the decision-making system about such influence.

Opinion of voters is more important than their turnout

Low voter turnout in some states and high voter turnout in others does not affect the distribution of votes, since the number of electors is tied to the population, and not to the number of voters or their turnout. Thus, the general opinion of residents of states with low turnout will be fully taken into account. In this situation, the emergence of politically passive states is excluded; only individual citizens representing a political minority who cannot influence the outcome of elections in their state can show passivity.

Arguments against Electoral College

The winner of the national vote can lose a vote in Electoral College

Four times (not counting the already mentioned incident of Adams elected by the House of Representatives), a candidate was elected president who received fewer votes (but not electors) than his opponent: R. Hayes in 1876, B. Harrison in 1888, J. Bush Jr. 2000 and D. Trump in 2016.

After all these elections, critics of the system claimed that the opinion of the majority of the people was not taken into account. Elections of 1876 and 2000 were accompanied by accusations of fraud (and mutual), and the victory in the key “vacillating states” was achieved by a very small margin of votes.

Application of the relative majority system

To become a winner in a separate state, it is enough to score a simple majority, but not an absolute one. This fact negates the argument that the candidates who won by the number of votes, but the candidates who lost the elections, allegedly won the popular vote, in fact, in many cases they simply did not get an absolute majority of votes (including the 2000 elections). Moreover, it is not known what their result would have been in the case of direct voting in two rounds, since the system of relative majority in itself pushes voters to vote for candidates from two dominant parties for fear that the vote might just be lost, vote for candidates from other parties.

As a result, many voters do not vote for the candidate who is really preferred, but for the one who, in their opinion, who is the “best among the worst” candidates from the two main parties, since only these candidates have the opportunity to win without a second round. With such a system, a victory in a separate state can be won with a minimum margin even if the other candidate would most likely have enlisted the support of voters in the second round if the elections were held by an absolute majority system. For example, in the elections held in 2016 there were several states at once, where no candidate received a majority (50% + 1 vote): Nevada (6), Arizona (11), Utah (6), Colorado (9), New -Mexico (5), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Florida (29), Virginia (13), Pennsylvania (20), New Hampshire (4), Maine (4), Michigan (16), total 146 electors, which is quite significant with 270 electoral votes needed to win.

The same deficiency is applied to the elections to the Congress and the Senate. Also noteworthy is the fact that replacing the relative majority system with the absolute majority system (voting in two rounds, rating voting) would not cancel a single argument for the electoral system as a whole.

Role of swing states

A special role in the election results is played by states in which there is no sustainable dominance of the republican or democratic electorate. As a result, a significant part of the voters of the states where there is such a stable majority are in a losing position. For example, in the state of New York, the majority has been constantly sending democratic electors for decades. So, the Republican voices in New York just disappear. Understanding this, some supporters of the republican candidate often simply do not spend their time on elections and do not vote. Some Democrats in traditionally republican states (for example, Texas) do the same. In such determined states, the obviously losing party practically does not conduct propaganda and does not spend money there. For example, George W. Bush, during the 2004 election campaign, visited the small “vacillating state” five times and never in New York, where he would have lost, even if he managed to persuade one or two voters in his favor.

Inequality of voters

From the point of view of Jamie Raskin, a senator from the state of Maryland, a constitutional law specialist who advocates for the reform of the Electoral College, voters from different states are in unequal conditions:

Each vote has the same weight – but not with the strange arithmetic of the Electoral College, where the voice of a Delaware or North Dakota resident has a much more mathematical weight (measured by the ratio of the number of voters to the number of electors per state) than the voice in larger states – such as California, Texas or New York. However, if we compare the likelihood with which voters may influence who will be appointed by the state, conditions will change and the discrepancies will become even more impressive. For example, in 2004, elections ended with a margin of 365 votes in New Mexico and a margin of 312,043 votes in Utah, that is, the voter in New Mexico had a chance to influence the appointment of electors hundreds of times more than that of the Utah elector.

This phenomenon arises precisely as a result of the principle of “the winner takes everything” applied to the multi-member majority electoral system. A preponderance of less than a thousand votes under an absolute majority system would inevitably lead to a second round of elections. But in the system of relative majority and in conditions when the majority multi-member district in the election of members of the Electoral College is equal to the whole state (unlike congressional elections, for example, held in single-member constituencies), the result of the elections is determined not by the largest stable states, but by swing states.

The role of faithless electors

Each elector writes the name of that person, which he himself considers necessary. In particular, he may break his word and write down the wrong one he promised or abstain from voting. Such electors are called faithless electors. At the same time, the opportunity to become a faithless elector never led to a change in the outcome of the vote, i.e. in fact, the very convening of a collegium instead of an automatic recount turned out to be unnecessary, which, in turn, could not be predicted in advance.

Population and Electoral College

The number of electors is equal to the number of representatives in the congress, despite the fact that the congress is a legislative body with real people who otherwise could not function. While the Electoral College is a formal body, without which the weight of each state in a presidential election could be taken into account more accurately if there were an automatic vote count for the absolute population, i.e. without recalculation to the electors at all and without the convocation of the board. However, there is a tribute to the tradition of convening a panel and the realization that population censuses are not so often held to ensure absolute accuracy. In addition, the error due to rounding when calculating the number of electors has never played a key role in determining the winner of elections in US history.