The United States uses a system called the electoral college to elect presidents. Under this method, the candidate with the most votes nationwide doesn’t necessarily win the election, which was the case in 2016 with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and in 2000 with George W. Bush and Al Gore. (lt also happened three times in the 19th century.)

Each state is given a number of electors based on the size of its congressional delegation. The candidate who wins a majority of electors becomes president.

One electoral vote

NH

ME

VT

NY

MA

WI

MI

ND

RI

CT

WA

SD

PA

MN

OR

MT

OH

IL

NE

ID

WY

WV

NJ

IN

NV

IA

UT

MD

KS

KY

CA

MO

VA

AZ

DC

DE

OK

NM

TN

AR

NC

AL

MS

GA

LA

SC

TX

FL

AK

HI

One electoral vote

NH

ME

VT

NY

MA

WI

MI

ND

RI

CT

WA

PA

SD

MN

OR

MT

OH

IL

NE

ID

WY

WV

NJ

NV

IN

IA

UT

MD

KS

KY

CA

MO

VA

AZ

DC

DE

OK

NM

TN

AR

NC

AL

MS

GA

LA

SC

TX

FL

AK

HI

Mont. 3

N.D. 3

Vt.

3

N.H.

4

Maine

4

N.Y.

29

Mass.

11

Wis.

10

Mich.

16

R.I.

4

Conn.

7

Wash.

12

Pa.

20

S.D. 3

Ore.

7

Minn.

10

Ind.

11

Ohio

18

Ill.

20

Wyo.

3

Idaho

4

Neb.

5

N.J.

14

Nev.

6

W.Va.

5

Iowa

6

Ky.

8

Utah

6

Colo.

9

Md.

10

Kansas

6

Mo.

10

Calif.

55

Ariz.

11

Va.

13

Del.

3

D.C.

3

Okla.

7

N.M.

5

Tenn.

11

Ark.

6

N.C.

15

Ala.

9

Ga.

16

Miss.

6

Texas

38

S.C.

9

La.

8

Fla.

29

One electoral vote

Alaska

3

Hawaii

4

One electoral vote

Vt.

3

N.H.

4

Maine

4

N.Y.

29

Mass.

11

Wis.

10

Mich.

16

R.I.

4

N.D. 3

Conn.

7

Wash.

12

Pa.

20

S.D. 3

Minn.

10

Ore.

7

Mont. 3

Ind.

11

Ohio

18

Ill.

20

Wyo.

3

Idaho

4

Neb.

5

N.J.

14

Nev.

6

W.Va.

5

Iowa

6

Ky.

8

Utah

6

Colo.

9

Md.

10

Kansas

6

Mo.

10

Calif.

55

Ariz.

11

Va.

13

D.C.

3

Del.

3

Okla.

7

N.M.

5

Tenn.

11

Ark.

6

N.C.

15

Ala.

9

Ga.

16

Miss.

6

Texas

38

S.C.

9

La.

8

Fla.

29

Alaska

3

Hawaii

4

1. Number of electors for each state determined

Each state is allotted one elector for each U.S. representative and senator it has. Washington, D.C. doesn’t have representation in Congress, but it receives three electors, the same number as the least populous state.

# of representatives + 2 senators per state = Total electoral seats

MARYLAND

The number of

representatives

depends on

the state’s

population

8

representatives

Each state

has two

senators

2

senators

The minimum

number of

electoral votes

a state can get

is 3. That’s also

true for D.C.

10

electoral votes

MARYLAND

The number of

representatives

depends on

the state’s

population

8

representatives

Each state

has two

senators

2

senators

The minimum

number of

electoral votes

a state can get

is 3. That’s also

true for D.C.

10

electoral votes

WYOMING

MARYLAND

CALIFORNIA

The number of

representatives

depends on

the state’s

population

1

8

53

representative

representatives

representatives

Each state

has two

senators

2

2

2

senators

senators

senators

The minimum

number of

electoral votes

a state can get

is 3. That’s also

true for D.C.

3

10

55

electoral votes

electoral votes

electoral votes

WYOMING

MARYLAND

CALIFORNIA

The number of

representatives

depends on

the state’s

population

1

8

53

representative

representatives

representatives

Each state

has two

senators

2

2

2

senators

senators

senators

The minimum

number of

electoral votes

a state can get

is 3. That’s also

true for D.C.

3

10

55

electoral votes

electoral votes

electoral votes

The number of congressional seats each state gets is determined by the decennial census. The 2020 Census is happening right now, which means some states will have a different number of electoral votes for the next presidential election in 2024.

2. Electors are nominated

In most states, electors are nominated at party conventions and their names are given to the state’s election official.

Democratic

convention

State’s election

official

Republican

convention

Democratic

convention

State’s election

official

Republican

convention

Democratic

convention

State’s election

official

Republican

convention

3. Voters select electors on Election Day

Electors’ names do not usually appear on the ballot, but when Americans in each state vote for their choice of president, they are technically casting their ballot for the slate of electors representing the ticket.

4. Electoral votes are tallied for states/districts

Most states are winner-take-all for presidential elections. Whichever party’s slate of electors receives the most votes gets all of the electoral votes. There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska both give two at-large delegates to whoever wins the state overall, and then one to the winner of each individual congressional district.

5. Majority of electoral votes determines the winner

A candidate needs to win a majority of 538 electoral votes — 270 — to be elected president.

If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the Senate chooses the vice president and the House chooses the president. But the House decision doesn’t work like normal: Each state’s delegation gets to cast a single vote, meaning that large states have the same weight as small states, similar to the Senate.

6. Electors ceremonially cast ballots for president

In 2020, Tuesday, Dec. 8 is “safe harbor” day. Under federal law, every state is expected to have made its election results official by the end of the day.

The following Monday, Dec. 14, in what has been a largely ceremonial gesture, the electors will cast ballots for president and vice president and are expected to follow the vote of their state. The deadline to receive the electors’ ballots from all states is Dec. 23. They are sent to the president of the Senate, but there’s no penalty if the deadline is missed.

On rare occasions, some electors have decided to cast their votes for a different candidate. These are known as “faithless electors,” and the behavior is protected by the Constitution. But a recent ruling of the Supreme Court stated that a state is allowed to require presidential electors to support the winner of its popular vote and may punish or replace those who don’t.

M

M

The votes are counted at a joint session of Congress, which will take place Jan. 6, and the president is officially elected and later inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Read more: