Skip to main content

Electoral College

The Electoral College decides who will be elected president and vice president of the U.S. Learn who is involved and how the process works.

In other U.S. elections, candidates are elected directly by popular vote. But the president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens. Instead, they are chosen by "electors" through a process called the Electoral College.

The process of using electors comes from the Constitution. It was a compromise between a popular vote by citizens and a vote in Congress.

Who is in the Electoral College?

Each state gets as many electors as it has members of Congress (House and Senate). Including Washington, D.C.’s three electors, there are currently 538 electors in all.

Each state’s political parties choose their own slate of potential electors. Who is chosen to be an elector, how, and when varies by state. Learn more about how electors are chosen.

How does the Electoral College process work?

  1. After you cast your ballot for president, your vote goes to a statewide tally. In 48 states and Washington, D.C., the winner gets all the electoral votes for that state. Maine and Nebraska assign their electors using a proportional system.

  2. A candidate needs the vote of at least 270 electors—more than half of all electors—to win the presidential election.

  3. In most cases, a projected winner is announced on election night in November after you vote. But the actual Electoral College vote takes place in mid-December when the electors meet in their states. See the Electoral College timeline of events for the 2020 election.

While the Constitution does not require electors to vote for the candidate chosen by their state's popular vote, some states do. The rare elector who votes for someone else may be fined, disqualified and replaced by a substitute elector, or potentially even prosecuted by their state.

Learn more about how the Electoral College works.

Unusual Electoral College scenarios

Winning the popular vote but losing the election

It is possible to win the Electoral College but lose the popular vote. This happened in 2016, 2000, and three times in the 1800s.

What happens if no candidate wins the majority of electoral votes?

If no candidate receives the majority of electoral votes, the vote goes to the House of Representatives.

This has happened twice. The first time was following the 1800 presidential election, when the House chose Thomas Jefferson. And following the 1824 presidential election, the House selected John Quincy Adams as president.

How to change the Electoral College

The Electoral College process is in the U.S. Constitution. It would take a constitutional amendment to change the process. For more information, contact your U.S. senator or your U.S. representative.

LAST UPDATED: February 8, 2024

SHARE THIS PAGE:

Have a question?

Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They will get you the answer or let you know where to find it.

Top