U.S. Electoral College facts for kids
In other U.S. elections, candidates are elected directly by popular vote (most voted for person). But the president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens. Instead, they’re chosen by "electors" through a process called the Electoral College.
The process of using electors comes from the Constitution. The Electoral College was established by the Founding Fathers of the United States as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote.
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.
How Does the Electoral College Process Work?
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.
A candidate needs the vote of at least 270 electors (more than half of all electors) to win the presidential election.
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.
The Constitution doesn’t require electors to follow their state's popular vote, but it’s rare for one not to.
Winning the Popular Vote but Losing the Election
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. House members choose the new president from among the top three candidates. The Senate elects the vice president from the remaining top two candidates.
This has only happened once. In 1824, the House of Representatives elected 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.
Images for kids
This graphic demonstrates how the winner of the popular vote can still lose in a hypothetical electoral college system.
A bar graph of popular votes in presidential elections (through 2012), with blue stars marking the four elections in which the winner did not have the plurality of the popular vote. Black squares mark the cases where the electoral vote resulted in a tie, or the winner did not have the majority of electoral votes. An 'H' marks the two cases where the election was decided by the House, and an 'S' marks the one case where the election was finalized by the Supreme Court.
These maps show the amount of attention given to each state by the Bush and Kerry campaigns during the final five weeks of the 2004 election. At the top, each waving hand represents a visit from a presidential or vice presidential candidate during the final five weeks. At the bottom, each dollar sign represents one million dollars spent on TV advertising by the campaigns during the same time period.
U.S. Electoral College Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.