The Electoral College consists of electors who are appointed by each state and who “formally” elect the President and Vice President of the United States. Each state is allotted a certain number of electoral votes which is based on its population in the most recent census. The states with the smallest populations, such as Delaware and Rhode Island, have the fewest number of electoral votes whereas heavily populated states, such as California, New York, and Texas, have the most electoral votes.
The way that the electoral college works is that, in most cases, each state’s electoral votes go the party whose candidate gets the majority of the popular vote. The idea behind this is to provide “protection” to the smaller states to ensure that their interests are not sacrificed for the those of the larger states. There are 538 total electoral votes, and the number of votes that are given to each state is the sum of the senators and representatives in Congress from that state.
In order to win the presidential election, a candidate needs to take a minimum of 270 electoral college votes. So, it’s no surprise that the biggest states, population-wise — California (55), New York (29), Pennsylvania (20), Florida (29), and Texas (38), have a huge impact on the outcome of the election.
The Electoral College was originally formed in 1787 as an alternative to having Congress elect the President. This plan was favored by the smaller states who were concerned that the larger states would be in control of presidential elections. However, the name “Electoral College” was not actually written into federal law until 1845. Throughout the course of the history of elections in the United States, several amendments to the Constitution, including the 14th, have resulted in updates to the way in which the College operates.
There have been several times in the history of the Electoral College in which a president was elected who did not receive a majority of the popular vote, but gained over 270 of the necessary electoral college votes. In 1992, President Bill Clinton received 43% of the popular vote, but a total of 370 electoral votes. Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, and Truman were also elected in this manner. In all 4 of these cases, there were more than two candidates on the ballot for that election year.
There have also been cases in which a candidate won the popular vote, but lost the presidency because he did not earn enough electoral votes – Al Gore (2000), Grover Cleveland (1888), Samuel Tilden (1876), and Andrew Jackson ( 1824).
Here is a breakdown of electoral votes by state, both on a map and chart to make it easy to understand. Keep in mind that these numbers can change once every 10 years in accordance with the national census. This map of the electoral votes by state is for the 2016, and 2020 elections and is based on the U.S. census numbers from the 2010 National Census.
To provide clarity, we have also included a list of Electoral Votes by State for the 2016 Presidential Election year.
There is lots of controversy surrounding the Electoral College versus the popular vote, as many citizens question the validity of their Presidential Vote. Many feel that their voice goes unheard in presidential elections, but you can now cast your vote for president online in a mock poll! That’s right, anyone can Vote for the President Online, regardless of voting eligibility now!