When American voters go to the polls to vote for president, many believe that they are participating in a direct election of the president. Technically, this is not the case, due to the existence of the electoral college, established in Article II, Section I, of the U.S. Constitution.
The electoral college is the name given a group of "electors" who are nominated by political activists and party members within the states. On election day these electors, pledged to one or another candidate, are popularly elected. In December following the presidential vote the electors meet in their respective state capitals and cast ballots for president and vice president. To be elected, a president requires 270 electoral votes.
In recent history, the electors have never cast their ballots against the winner of the popular vote. For all intents and purposes, the electoral college vote, which for technical reasons is weighted in favor of whoever wins the popular election, increases the apparent majority of the winning candidate and lends legitimacy to the popular choice. It is still possible, however, that in a close race or a multiparty race the electoral college might not cast 270 votes in favor of any candidate - in that event, the House of Representatives would choose the next president.
Source: U.S. Department of State
- How the Electoral College Works (Federal Election Commission)
- Electoral College Homepage (National Archives)
- Procedural Guide to the Electoral College (National Archives)
- The Electoral College (William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director FEC Office of Election Administration)
- Proposals for Electoral College Reform (Professor Akil Reed Amar, Yale Law School, September 4, 1997)
- Presidential Election Laws (National Archives)
- When No Majority Rules: The Electoral College and Presidential Succession (Professor Michael Glennon, UC Davis School of Law, 1993; CQ Press)