Learning the Electoral College and Why It’s Important

By: Hayden Cordova | Managing Editor


It can be easy to think that the next president is voted in by a popular majority; however, the votes from the electoral college hold the most significant influence in the process.  But what exactly is the electoral college, and why is it so important?

According to the Congressional Research Service, the electoral college is a collection of nominated voters from each state, the number of which matches the combined amount of representation in the Senate and House of Representatives for their respective state. 

Each state has a specific amount of electoral votes entitled to it, decided by the current census. The total amount of electoral votes is 538 nationwide, with a majority of 270 needed for a presidential candidate to win. 

Suppose the Democratic and Republican Parties are on the ballot, for example. In that case, each has a group of electoral voters, known as a ticket, determined by the states electoral number.  When the public votes for a presidential candidate on election day, what is being voted on is which group of electors will vote for their pledged party.  

If a majority wins, then no electoral voters from the losing party are used for the state’s general ticket, and the winning party confirms the general public’s decision by voting for their aligned party in a “winner-takes-all” system.  What makes the electoral college so vital to the election process is that it amplifies the public majority of a chosen state, widening the gap between victory and defeat for a political party.  If the executive office was determined by the popular majority alone, this would encourage partisan public opinion manipulation.  Likewise, if a tie occurs, the electoral votes help tip the scales even further toward one side or the other, making stalemate much less likely to happen.

The electoral college has been criticized over the years for the electoral vote sometimes contradicting the popular vote.  This event, known as an electoral college misfire, occurred four times through American history, most recently in the 2016 election between Trump and Clinton.  Clinton won the popular vote, but Trump secured the electoral vote.  However, advocates of the college defend how it keeps less populous states from being sidelined in the election process, as well as its support of smaller political parties having more strength against a dominant party.  

This complex political process can leave many wondering why the electoral college still stands today.  Simply put, the U.S. government was established on a system of checks and balances between the different branches of government, and the electoral college is one of those safeguards to preserve the integrity of the voting process despite its flaws.

Graphic courtesy of 270 to Win.