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The Electoral College Explained

With Election Day behind us, voters have done their part and the responsibility of choosing the next U.S. president will fall on the Electoral College. 

But how does the college work and when do the electors actually meet to finalize the chosen candidate?

Looking at the rest of the world, the Electoral College is unusual as no other major democracy has anything like it. In the U.S., the candidate who wins the popular vote does not necessarily win the election.

Instead, voters select electors — those tiny little names listed off to the side of a candidate’s name on their ballots.

David Gartner is a professor at Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law.

“It doesn’t even have to be a majority of the voters in a given state, but a plurality of voters in that state will determine who the electors are and that will determine which candidate receives the electoral votes from a given state,” Gartner said.

He said the founders of the nation were concerned about foreign interference in our elections and they wanted electors who would think independently.

“To be a member of the Electoral College, you cannot have an interest in the election,” Gartner said. “You cannot be an elected official who might be affected by this election. So the idea that these would be independent people was actually very important to why the framers set it up.”

But the framers set it up when the country’s population was about three million. So it’s unlikely that they anticipated having presidential elections in which the winner of the Electoral College vote would fall short by almost three million votes.

“So we’re living in a time that’s very far, on one hand, removed from the world in which the framers lived,” Gartner said. “On the other hand, some of the concerns that they highlighted are ones that are still very central to how people think about the Electoral College today.”

Each state gets two votes for its two U.S. senators, and then one vote for each member it has in the House of Representatives.

The prevailing candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win and Arizona accounts for 11 of those. The electors will meet in December to finalize who will become the country’s next president.

2020 Election Electoral Votes

An integrative map of states so far called by the Associated Press.


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Senior field correspondent Bridget Dowd has a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.