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How does the United States presidential election system work?

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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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We have a process in the United States for electing our president. Each party must choose its candidate that will represent the party in the general election. Prior to the nominating convention, candidates for each party will compete in primary elections and caucuses for delegates to the nominating convention. Assuming a candidate gets a majority of the party’s delegates, that person will then be nominated to represent that party in the general election.

In the general election, each candidate tries to win the vote in as many states as possible. Each state carries a certain number of electoral votes. The number of electoral votes a state has is equal to the number of members of Congress that each state has. In order to become President, a candidate must get at least 270 electoral votes. When a candidate wins a state, the candidate gets that state’s electoral vote. In most states, it is a winner-take-all system. Whoever wins the popular vote in a state gets all of that state’s electoral votes. As a result of this system, candidates focus their attention and their campaigning in the states that have a large number of electoral votes and some key swing states where the vote is expected to so close that either candidate could win that state. States with few electoral votes or states that tend to vote for one party most of the time will get very little attention from the candidates. The goal is to get at least 270 electoral votes. If that is accomplished, that person will become the next president.

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In the United States, there is a process that is used to choose the candidates for President for each political party. When an election is going to occur, candidates announce that they will run for the office of President. Each state holds either a primary election or a party caucus to determine how many delegates each candidate will receive from that state. A candidate must get a certain number of delegates in order to get the party’s nomination. After all the primaries and the caucuses are held, the party will hold its national nominating convention.

One of the purposes of the national nominating convention is to choose the party’s candidate for President. Once a candidate gets the nomination from his or her party, all of the candidates will face each other in the general election. In the general election, the candidates try to win as many states as possible in order to get at least the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. When a candidate wins a state, the candidate gets either all of or a portion of the electoral votes from that state.

The Electoral College will then choose the President and the Vice President in the middle of December, completing the electoral process.

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How does the Electoral College work?

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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