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U.S. Electoral College facts for kids

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Map of the Electoral College for the 2016 presidential election, showing the amount of votes from each state and federal district

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.

The Electors

Electoral College 2016
Electoral votes allocated to each state and to the District of Columbia for the 2012, 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, based on populations from the 2010 Census.
US Electoral College 2016
Composite Electoral College vote tally for the 2016 presidential election. The total number of votes cast was 538, of which Donald Trump received 304 votes (), Hillary Clinton received 227 (), Colin Powell received 3 (), Bernie Sanders received 1 (), John Kasich received 1 (), Ron Paul received 1 () and Faith Spotted Eagle received 1 (). The total of electors do not meet together to vote, but rather separately meet in their individual jurisdictions.

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.

Special Situations

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, in 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. 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.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Colegio Electoral de los Estados Unidos para niños

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