Every presidential election year, on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December, Presidential Electors cast votes for President and Vice President. This often-overlooked day is a vital part of our Constitutional process predicated on a robust system of checks and balances.
Most people don’t understand the Electoral College, even though it decides who becomes President. The Electoral College is established in the Constitution, and each state is given Electors equal to its representation in the House and Senate combined. The winner of the presidency is the candidate who wins a majority of the Electors (at least 270 out of 538 total Electors).
Under the Constitution, state legislatures decide how to choose Electors to represent their state. Most states allocate Electors to whichever candidate wins the statewide vote, except Maine and Nebraska, which allocate two electoral votes to the popular vote winner and the rest to the winner of each of the state’s congressional districts.
Electors themselves are nominated by the political parties in each state and pledge to vote for their party’s nominee. For example, a vote for Joe Biden in Maryland was actually a vote for a slate of Electors selected by the state Democrat party who pledged to vote for Biden.
The actual meeting of the Electoral College doesn’t occur until December to give states time to resolve election disputes. When the Electoral College meets, it doesn’t meet in one central location. Instead, each state’s electors meet together in their state’s capitol and cast their electoral votes. These votes are then sent to Washington, D.C., and counted by Congress in early January.
This complex system ensures that the people in every state have a voice in selecting who becomes President. It holds true to the American Founders’ belief in using checks and balances to promote unity and stability. Candidates must campaign in a diverse array of states and reach out to moderate voters who often decide the outcome of an election.
Critics of the Electoral College argue it is outdated and should be eliminated or nullified with the National Popular Vote interstate compact (NPV) that would decide the presidency based on whichever candidate wins the most votes. Trading out the Electoral College for direct democracy would undermine the Founder’s vision and allow more extreme parties and candidates to have more political power. It would also require a federal takeover of elections and create possible nightmare scenarios like a nationwide recount.