The United States House of Representatives lays out exactly what the electoral college is on their fast facts page.
"Established in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, the Electoral College is the formal body which elects the President and Vice President of the United States. Each state has as many "electors" in the Electoral College as it has Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress, and the District of Columbia has three electors. When voters go to the polls in a Presidential election, they actually are voting for the slate of electors vowing to cast their ballots for that ticket in the Electoral College."
This systems means that is 45% of a state votes for one candidate and the other 55% of individual voters in a state vote for the other candidate, then all of the electoral votes go to the candidate with the most votes, even though almost half of the state voted for the other candidate. On a larger scale, it means that candidate will try to win over states that have the most electoral votes, like California, New York, or Texas, to win the 270 (just over half of the total 538 electoral votes) electoral votes they need to be declared the winner.
In 2000, and more recently in 2016, the winner of the electoral college votes has not reflected the number of votes that a candidate actually receives (the popular vote). This discrepancy is where the electoral college can be seen as a flawed system. And more and more presidential candidates are calling for electoral college reform.
However, there are positives about the electoral college. For instance, they ensure that smaller states have a voice in any presidential election because the necessary 270 votes cannot be obtained by large states exclusively. This LibGuide includes an interactive map, videos, and print resources that are useful in understanding the advantages and pitfalls of the electoral college.
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