Excerpt from an original document located at Jackson County, MO Election Board
Current Workings of the Electoral College
The current workings of the Electoral College
are the result of both design and experience. As it now operates:
- Each State is allocated a number of Electors
equal to the number of its U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S.
Representatives (which may change each decade according to the size of each State's
population as determined in the Census).
- The political parties (or independent
candidates) in each State submit to the State's chief election official a list of
individuals pledged to their candidate for president and equal in number to the State's
electoral vote. Usually, the major political parties select these individuals in their
State party conventions while third parties and independent candidates merely designate
- Members of Congress and employees of the
federal government are prohibited from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the
balance between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
- After their caucuses and primaries, the major
parties nominate their candidates for president and vice president in their national
conventions - traditionally held in the summer preceding the election. (Third parties and
independent candidates follow different procedures according to the individual State
laws). The names of the duly nominated candidates are then officially submitted to each
State's chief election official so that they might appear on the general election ballot.
- On the Tuesday following the first Monday of
November in years divisible by four, the people in each State cast their ballots for the
party slate of Electors representing their choice for president and vice president
(although as a matter of practice, general election ballots normally say "Electors
for" each set of candidates rather than list the individual Electors on each slate).
- Whichever party slate wins the most popular
votes in the State becomes that State's Electors - so that, in effect, whichever
presidential ticket gets the most popular votes in a State wins all the Electors of that
State. (The two exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska where two Electors are chosen by
a statewide popular vote and remainder by the popular vote within each Congressional
- On the Monday following the second Wednesday
of December (as established in federal law) each State's Electors meet in their respective
State capitals and cast their electoral votes - one for president and one for vice
- In order to prevent Electors from voting only
for "favorite sons" of their home State, at least one of their votes must be for
a person from outside their State (though this is seldom a problem since the parties have
consistently nominated presidential and vice presidential candidate from different
- The electoral votes are then sealed and
transmitted from each State to the President of the Senate who, on the following January
6, opens and reads them before both houses of the Congress.
- The candidate for president with the most
electoral votes, provided that it is an absolute majority (one over half of the total), is
declared president. Similarly, the vice presidential candidate with the absolute majority
of electoral votes is declared vice president.
- In the event no one obtains an absolute majority of electoral votes for president, the U.S. House of Representatives (as the chamber closest to the people) selects the president from among the top three contenders with each State casting only one vote and an absolute majority of the States being required to elect. Similarly, if no one obtains an absolute majority for vice president, then the U.S. Senate makes the selection from among the top two contenders for that office.
- At noon on January 20, the duly elected
president and vice president are sworn into office.
Occasionally questions arise about what would
happen if the presidential or vice presidential candidate died at some point in this
process. For answers to these, as well as to a number of other "what if"
questions, readers are advised to consult a small volume entitle After the People
Vote: Steps in Choosing the President edited by Walter Berns and published
in 1983 by the American Enterprise Institute. Similarly, further details on the history
and current functioning of the Electoral College are available in the second edition of Congressional
Quarterly's Guide to U.S. Elections, a real goldmine of information, maps, and
For more on the Electoral College