U.S. Electoral College explainer
July 20, 2020 - It takes 270 Electoral College votes to win the presidency -- a majority of the 538 votes across 50 states and Washington DC. About 45% of the U.S. population lives in 15 leaning and so-called toss-up states.
The president and vice president are not elected directly by the citizens -- by the national popular vote -- instead, they’re chosen by “electors” through the Electoral College.
The Electoral College allocates votes to each state based on its membership in the Senate and House of Representatives. Including Washington DC’s three electors, there are currently 538 electors in all.
In forty-eight states and Washington DC, the winner of the popular vote receives all of that state’s electors. However, Maine and Nebraska assign their electors using a proportional system.
One result of the Electoral College is that not everyone’s vote carries the same weight. Harvard historian Alexander Keyssar points out that in 2016, Wyoming had one electoral vote for every 190,000 residents while in California each vote represented 680,000 people.
In the last five elections, the Electoral College has handed the presidency to two Republicans who lost the popular vote. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote by some 500,000 votes nationwide but received 266 electoral votes to Republican George W. Bush’s 271. And Democrat Hillary Clinton received a lead of more than 2.8 million votes over Donald Trump in 2016 but received 227 electoral votes to Trump’s 304.
Looking ahead to the election this November, Democrats harbour a very realistic fear that Trump will again prevail without winning the popular vote.
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