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Presidential Elections

The Electoral College

What is the electoral college?

When Americans vote for a president and vice president, they are actually voting for presidential electors, known collectively as the electoral college. It is these electors, chosen by the people, who elect the chief executive. The Constitution assigns each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of the state’s Senate (always two) and House of Representatives delegation (which may change each decade according to the size of each state’s population as determined in the U.S. Census); at the time of the 2004 presidential election, the number of electors per state ranged from 3 to 55, for a total of 538.

In each presidential election year, a group (called a ticket or slate) of candidates for elector is nominated by political parties and other groupings in each state, usually at a state party convention, or by the party state committee. In most states, voters cast a single vote for the slate of electors pledged to the party presidential and vice presidential candidates of their choice. The slate winning the most popular votes is elected; this is known as the winner-take-all, or general ticket, system. Maine and Nebraska use the district system, under which two electors are chosen on a statewide, at-large basis, and one is elected in each congressional district. Electors assemble in their respective states on the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. They are pledged and expected, but not required, to vote for the candidates they represent. Separate ballots are cast for president and vice president, after which the electoral college ceases to exist for another four years.



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