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How does the Electoral College work?

The Electoral College works on a state by state basis, with each state provided a given number of electors, determined by its representation in the US Congress. Rather than voting for candidates directly, voters are, instead, selecting the electors to select those candidates on their behalf. This is an example of indirect democracy in action.

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The Electoral College is the system set in place by the US Constitution for selecting the president and vice president of the United States. Keep in mind, the entire US government was designed as a series of compromises and checks and balances, in attempts to discourage abuses of power. Furthermore, be aware that the Constitution's Framers envisioned the United States as an indirect rather than a direct democracy. They had a tendency to actively distrust direct democracy, afraid that it could easily devolve into mob rule. This is all reflected in the institution of the Electoral College which, while it obeys democratic principle, maintains carefully designed separations and safeguards, intentionally preventing the people from holding too direct an influence on the election results (at least as the Framers, in their Enlightenment era mindset, would have seen it).

Presidential elections are not determined by a popular vote. In fact, there have been cases where the winner of the popular vote loses the election. Instead, elections in the Electoral College are held on a state by state basis, with each candidate competing to win each state. Each individual state is allocated a given number of electors, this being the combination of Senators and Representatives each state has in Congress. With the Twenty-third Amendment, Washington DC is also provided a voice in the Electoral College. It receives three electors. Thus, larger states with a greater number of Representatives will receive a greater number of electors, and therefore hold more value in the Electoral College. Small states still have a slightly outsize influence due to the equal apportionment of Senate seats, however. Winning the Electoral College requires winning a majority of the electors. Should there be no clear majority, the election would be decided in the House of Representatives.

Note the indirect nature of the Electoral College and the level of disconnect between voters and the selection of a candidate. Ultimately, voters do not directly vote for a candidate. Rather, they vote for the electors that will select a candidate. This is very much by design for the reasons described in the first paragraph.

For more information regarding this process, and its history, see the provided link to the National Archives.

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