Electoral College

Definition of the Electoral College

The Electoral College is a group of people called electors, and their job is to pick the President and Vice President of the United States. Imagine a system like a school class representative election, where instead of everyone voting directly for the class president, each row of students picks someone to choose a candidate for them. This is how the Electoral College works, but instead of rows of students, we have states. Every state gets a certain number of these ‘row representatives’ or electors based on how many people live there. So, in a big state with lots of people, there will be more electors than in a small state with fewer people.

A second way to understand the Electoral College is to think of it as a puzzle. Each state is a puzzle piece with a certain number of points, and the candidate who fits enough pieces together to reach 270 points or more wins the game—or, in this case, becomes President. Why 270? Because that’s over half of the total 538 points, which means they have the majority’s support.

Examples of the Electoral College in Action

  • In the 2000 Presidential Election, George W. Bush and Al Gore were super close in the public vote, kind of like if two runners finished a race at almost the same time. But Bush won by just a small number of votes in Florida, which gave him the electoral votes he needed to win the race, even though Gore was slightly ahead in the total votes from people all over the country. This shows the Electoral College in action because it was the electors’ votes that ultimately decided who became the President, not the total number of individual votes.
  • The 2016 Presidential Election saw Donald Trump become President even though Hillary Clinton had more public votes in total. This is like if your favorite singer won the most votes on a TV talent show but lost because a special panel of judges had a different scoring system and gave higher points to the other singer. Trump won the Electoral College because he got enough electors from states with higher weights in the system, showing how the Electoral College can lead to a President who didn’t have the most direct public support.

Why Is the Electoral College Important?

The Electoral College is like the rulebook for one of the most important games in the United States—the presidential election. It’s important because it decides who becomes the leader of the country. But it also makes sure that smaller states, like sparsely attended school clubs, are still heard, not just the big ones, like popular school sports teams. With only a popular vote (think total school votes), candidates might only pay attention to the large places with lots of people (the popular teams), but the Electoral College encourages them to reach out to everyone.

The importance of the Electoral College stretches into everyday life because it can affect issues like taxes, education, and healthcare. The President makes big decisions that touch all aspects of Americans’ lives, so the system that chooses the President connects deeply to the average person’s life.

Origin of the Electoral College

The Electoral College was dreamt up by a group known as the Founding Fathers. When they were designing the rules of the United States (the Constitution), they had a big argument about the best way to pick a President. They didn’t all agree, so they ended up with a unique plan—the Electoral College—as a way to balance things fairly between different state sizes and populations when it comes to choosing a President.

Controversies Surrounding the Electoral College

The Electoral College isn’t without its drama. There are arguments about it because occasionally the person who wins the presidency isn’t the same one who got the most thumbs up from people around the country. Because of this, some people think the system needs a makeover, so the person with the most votes across the board always wins.

There’s also a point of contention about how states decide to give all their Electoral College votes to the candidate who just barely wins their state. This can make a few votes tip the balance in a big way, which leads some to say that it isn’t fully fair.

However, there are plenty of cheerleaders for the Electoral College, too. They argue that it keeps a nice balance among states and makes sure that presidential hopefuls pay attention to all areas, not just the ones jam-packed with people.

Reforming the Electoral College

Lots of ideas are tossed around about how to change the Electoral College. Some think it should stay, but with a tweak on how states hand out their votes. Instead of the ‘winner-takes-all’ approach, they could share votes more evenly based on what fraction of the vote each candidate gets—just like Maine and Nebraska do.

Others suggest that we should get rid of the Electoral College completely and go for what’s called a ‘direct popular vote.’ However, changing the rulebook of the land (the Constitution) to do this would take a lot of team effort—lots of people and states would need to agree.

Related Topics

  • Popular Vote: This is the total number of votes that people give directly to presidential candidates. It’s like if every student in a school voted for their favorite lunch option, and the one with the most votes won.
  • Constitutional Amendments: These are changes to the US Constitution. It’s like your school’s rulebook getting an update because everyone agrees on a new club or policy.
  • Federalism: This means that power is split between the national government and individual states. It’s like having school rules, but also rules just for the library or the cafeteria.
  • Representative Democracy: This is where people elect others to make decisions on their behalf. Think of it as choosing someone to speak for you at a big school meeting instead of everyone shouting at once.
  • Swing States: These are states where voters may choose a Republican or a Democrat and can swing the results of an election. It’s like a group of friends who can’t decide between playing soccer or basketball, and whichever game one friend picks becomes the game everyone plays.

Significance in US Politics

The Electoral College is a massive deal in US politics. It shapes how candidates run their campaigns and influences which states they visit and what issues they talk about. They have to get their strategy right to win over the right combination of states and secure those vital 270 points in the Electoral College.


In summary, the Electoral College is a one-of-a-kind feature in the way America picks its leaders. While it can seem a bit complex, it’s really about making sure everyone gets a fair say in the process. Debates about whether to keep it, change it, or ditch it show just how lively and ongoing the conversation is about making sure elections are just and representative. This back-and-forth is part of what keeps American democracy fresh and attentive to the needs and voices of its people, even as times change.