Electoral College Facts
Electoral College Facts

29 Interesting Facts about the Electoral College

By Nathan James, Associate Writer
Published January 19, 2018
  • The Constitutional Convention established the Electoral College system in 1787.[5]
  • The Electoral College is not a place, but a process. Electors are selected by each party for each state, equal to the number of the state's representatives and senators. These electors cast the final votes for the president and vice-president of the United States.[5]
  • Many Southern politicians supported the Electoral College out of fear that a direct popular vote would diminish the South’s power, where a large portion of the population were non-voting slaves.[5]
  • Every state except Maine and Nebraska has a winner-take-all electoral vote system, where the winner of the popular vote receives all the state's electoral votes. Maine and Nebraska award two votes to the winner of the popular vote state-wide, with the additional votes decided according to congressional district.[3]
  • There have been five presidential elections in which the winner of the popular vote did not win the presidency.[3]
  • Electoral College Upsets
    YearPopular Vote WinnerElectoral College Winner
    1824Andrew JacksonJohn Quincy Adams
    1876Samuel TildenRutherford B. Hayes
    1888Grover ClevelandBenjamin Harrison
    2000Al GoreGeorge W. Bush
    2016Hillary ClintonDonald Trump
  • A president cannot be elected through the normal Electoral College process without a majority vote, or 270 electoral votes.[5]
  • More than 700 proposals to abolish or amend the Electoral College system have been introduced in Congress during the nation's history—more than on any other subject.[3]
  • Historians speculate that one of the reasons the Electoral College system was initially accepted was because it had no pressing immediate significance, since the members of the Constitutional Convention recognized that George Washington would be elected president no matter the manner of election.[5]
  • There were several reasons the members of the Constitutional Convention saw the need for a mechanism like the Electoral College, one of which was concern that the average voter would lack sufficient political awareness to cast an informed vote.[5]
  • Horace Greeley
    Greeley's supporters were loyal to a fault.
  • In 1872, 66 electors cast votes for Horace Greeley, the Democratic candidate opposing incumbent Ulysses S. Grant, despite the fact that he had died immediately after the election.[3]
  • Since the Electoral College's founding, there have been 167 cases of "faithless electors," or electors voting for someone other than their party's candidate.[2]
  • During the Constitutional Convention, many of the representatives from smaller states were resistant to a direct popular vote insofar as they feared it would diminish their power in the union.[5]
  • Occasionally electors do not vote as they have pledged to. Though some states have laws mandating that electors vote as promised, no "faithless elector" has ever been severely prosecuted.[3]
  • Of the 167 faithless electors in United States history, 71 changed their votes because of the death of their candidate, 3 abstained, and 93 opted to vote differently for personal reasons.[2]
  • The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College in part to discourage partisan politics. Their hope was that electors would pick the "best men" from the population, rather than becoming the tools of political parties.[5]
  • Alexander Hamilton said of the Electoral College in The Federalist Paper, no. 68: "The mode of appointment of the chief magistrate of the United States is almost the only part of the system, of any consequence, which has escaped without severe censure...[I] hesitate not to affirm that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent." 20[5]
  • The vital aspect of the electoral college was that it got the Convention over the hurdle and protected everybody's interest. The future was left to cope with the problem of what to do with this Rube Goldberg mechanism...The Electoral College was neither an exercise in applied Platonism nor an experiment in indirect government based on elitist distrust of the masses. It was merely a jerry-rigged improvisation which has subsequently been endowed with high theoretical content.

    - John Roche

  • Members of the Constitutional Convention feared a return to monarchy, which partly explains the acceptance of the Electoral College system. Many feared that a direct vote would consolidate too much power and social cachet into the hands of the winner.[5]
  • The words "Electoral College" do not appear in the U.S. Constitution.[3]
  • The formation of the Electoral College occurred late in the meetings of the Constitutional Convention. Some historians speculate that its speedy acceptance was partially due to the weariness of convention members.[5]
  • Many of the members of the Constitutional Convention thought that the vast majority of presidential elections would be decided by Congress, as they assumed that regional differences would lead to a wide variety of candidates, none of whom would be able to receive a majority vote in the electorate.[5]
  • Changes in the Electoral College system over the past 200 years have resulted in a system quite different from that envisioned by the founders. The rise of the two-party system has largely changed the electors' roles from informed decision makers to party representatives.[5]
  • Electoral Founding Fathers
    The current role of the Electoral College is quite different from the Founders' anticipations.

  • Each political party selects its electors from the party's ranks. Electors are generally party members of high standing and are sometimes elected officials themselves.[7]
  • If none of the presidential candidates receives the required 270 electoral votes, then the decision is handed over to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate chooses the vice president.[5][7]
  • Originally, electors cast two votes for president, one of which had to be for someone from a state other than their own. The two candidates with the most votes would become president and vice president, respectively.[5]
  • Formerly, each elector cast two different votes for president; the flaw with this plan was revealed in the 1800 presidential election, when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr received an equal number of votes. It took 36 rounds of balloting in the House of Representatives before Jefferson was finally elected as the country's fourth president.[4]
  • The 12th Amendment to the Constitution was added in 1803 and streamlined the Electoral College process, clarifying that each elector must cast two votes, one explicitly for president, one for vice president.[4]
  • Electoral College map
    Texas, California, and Florida are among the most powerful voting blocs.
  • The state with the most electoral votes is California, at 55. Several states have only three votes, including Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming.[1]
  • The Electoral College system has come under increased scrutiny over the past two decades, with the highly contentious elections of 2000 and 2016 each producing a president who lost the popular vote.[6]
  • On election day in the United States, voters are actually casting their ballots for a presidential candidate's electors, who have been chosen by their party's leadership.[5]
  • Interesting Electoral College Facts INFOGRAPHIC
    Electoral College Thumbnail
References

1"About the Electors." National Records and Archives Administration: U.S. Electoral College.  Accessed: November 11, 2017.

2"Faithless Electors." FairVote.org. Accessed: November 25, 2017.

3Klein, Christopher. "9 Things You May Not Know about the Electoral College." History.com. December 17, 2012. Accessed: November 24, 2017.

4Levinson, Sanford. "The Twelfth Amendment." ConstitutionCenter.org. Accessed: November 29, 2017.

5Longley, Lawrence D., and Neal R. Peirce. The Electoral College Primer 2000. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.

6Ross, Tara. Enlightened Democracy. Dallas, TX: Colonial Press, 2004.

7"What is the Electoral College? How It Works and Why It Matters." Huffington Post, Updated November 8, 2016. Accessed: November 29, 2017.

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