Some questions make parents squirm. One that might come up between now and Election Day is: Where do presidential electors come from?
Few people know how this works. It all starts at state political party conventions.
Earlier this year, your state’s Democratic Party and Republican Party (and possibly other, smaller parties) held conventions. These business meetings bring together activists and politicians from around the state (they may have met remotely this year due to the pandemic). In a presidential election year these state conventions have several duties, including choosing delegates for their national convention and nominating people to be their state’s presidential electors.
In some states, the process may be formal and competitive. In other states, it’s more casual. If you’ve ever been to a business or club meeting where people are being elected, you’ve seen the process: nominations, seconds, maybe speeches, and then a vote. At the end, a group of people is selected to be their party’s presidential elector nominees.
How many people? That depends on the state—every state gets at least three presidential electors, and states with more people get more electors. It’s based on how many total members of Congress a state has: every state has two U.S. Senators and a number of U.S. Representatives based on its population (the smallest states have one representative, the largest state, California, has 53; that means the smallest states have three electoral votes and California has 55).
I live in Oklahoma, where we have seven presidential electors. Right now, before Election Day, the Oklahoma Democrats have nominated seven people to be electors, and the Oklahoma Republicans have nominated seven people to be electors. When I vote for president on November 3, I’m voting in a state election to decide which group of electors will represent my state. If the Republicans win Oklahoma in 2020 (like they did in 2016), then the Oklahoma Republicans’ electors will be chosen.
On December 14 (the date is set by federal law), those electors will meet at the state capitol and cast their votes (since their title is “elector” their votes are called “electoral votes”) for president and vice president. The same thing will happen in every other state. Once they vote, all those presidential electors are done—their one and only job is to cast their state’s electoral votes.
Some people worry about these electors going rogue (usually these are called “faithless electors”). This is extremely unlikely, and even more so after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.
There is a threat, however, called the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact. It would require states to ignore their own voters when they choose electors. NPV is the real “faithless elector” threat.