Based on the total # of seats each state has in Congress (House + Senate). Example: CA has 53 House seats + 2 Senators = 55 electoral votes. The 23rd Amendment gave 3 electoral votes to Washington D.C. bringing the total # to 538. (435+100+3 = 538)
# needed to win (What happens if no candidate gets this many?)
Simple majority = 270/538. If no candidate earns 270 electoral votes, the House picks the president and the Senate picks the VP. Only twice in our history has the House had to pick the president, most recently in 1824. It will happen again in a future election if there is either a strong third-party candidate who takes electoral votes away from the two major party candidates denying either a simple majority of 270, or (and this is less likely) if there is a 269-269 tie between the Democrat and Republican on the ballot.
Who chooses the electors? (Does the popular vote matter?)
Electors are chosen in any manner decided on by a state’s legislature. In modern times, state legislatures defer to the political party of the candidate who wins the popular vote. In other words, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state will almost certainly win ALL of that state’s electoral votes since all of the electors will be hand-picked by his political party. So, YES, on a state-by-state basis, the popular vote definitely matters because it determines which party will be choosing the electors.
For whom do electors vote? (What did 12th Amend do?)
An elector may vote for ANYONE they want, including someone who is not even running – they can even abstain if they want to and not vote for anyone. According to the 12th Amendment, electors may cast ONE vote for president and ONE vote for VP (prior to this, there was no formal vote for VP and the presidential candidate who came in 2nd was automatically granted the VP spot).
II. Major flaw in the system (Why didn’t Al Gore win in 2000?) The major flaw in the system is that a candidate (like Al Gore did in 2000) can win the nationwide popular vote and still lose the election. This can happen because a presidential election is a reflection of Federalism – it is a STATE-BY-STATE contest. If a candidate wins the popular vote in a state, he wins all of that state’s electoral votes. The candidate who wins the popular vote in enough states to accumulate 270 electoral votes, wins the presidency. In 2000, Gore won the popular vote by a wide margin in many states like CA and NY. In the end, he earned 500,000+ more popular votes than Bush nationwide. However, Gore did not win the popular vote in enough individual states to get 270 electors in his column. He needed to win the popular vote in ONE more state. Bush earned 271 electoral votes from the states where he won the popular vote. III. Most popular reform idea (Why will it never happen?) The most popular reform idea is to simply get rid of the Electoral
College altogether and go to a DIRECT POPULAR ELECTION.
become president. This will likely never happen because it would require an
AMENDMENT to the Constitution (which takes a 2/3 vote in each
house of Congress followed by approval in 3/4 of the states) and the
SMALLER STATES which are over-represented in the Electoral
College will never vote for it since they would lose some of their
disproportionate power in choosing the president. EXAMPLE: California is approximately 53 times bigger than Wyoming in population (this is evidenced by the fact that we have 53 seats in the House and WY only has 1). However, like every other state WY has 2 Senators giving them a total of 3 votes in the Electoral College while CA only gets 55. This means that we only have about 18 times more power than Wyoming in choosing the president, despite our population which is 53 times bigger than theirs. If we went to a direct popular election, for every 1 vote cast in WY there would be 53 cast in CA. We then would have 53 times more power in choosing the president. Wyoming likes the extra power that the Electoral College gives them and they won’t ever vote for an Amendment that would cause them to lose it!