A Number of Electors

Electing the President of the United States


The Electoral College map for the Nov. 3 Election.

Many government officers will be elected on November 3rd– including the Governor of our own Washington State– but this year, the attention of our nation lies chiefly with electing the President of the United States. On Election Day, Americans across the Union will cast their votes. After our votes are counted, whichever candidate receives the most votes will become the President-elect… or so it may seem. Almost every public official in the United States is elected in a way that everyone can understand. Your class Senators, your Congressmen, and our Governor, are all elected in a straightforward manner; count up the votes, and the majority wins. Perhaps surprisingly, though, electing the President of the United States is not so simple. You may have heard of the “Electoral College”- it may only ring a bell, or you may be intimately familiar with it. But as we approach November 3rd, it is worth explaining.

Electing the President, in a nutshell:

A group of people, called Electors, come together after Election Day. When they are all together, they are called the Electoral College. Each state gets one Elector for every Congressman; our state, for example, has twelve Electors, because we have ten Representatives and two Senators. These Electors then vote; and whichever candidate receives at least 270 votes becomes the President-elect.

Doing the Math

Our state, Washington, has ten Representatives in the national House of Representatives. Today, each state gets one Representative for roughly every 700,000 people. California, the state with the most people, gets fifty-three Representatives. Wyoming, the state with the least people, has only one Representative. Washington State also has two Senators in the national Senate. Each state gets two Senators, regardless of their population. California and Wyoming both have two Senators. If you added up Washington’s Representatives and Senators, we would have twelve Congressmen total. California has fifty-five total Congressmen. Wyoming has three total Congressmen.


The Constitution of the United States, the rule book for this game, says that each State Legislature can choose how their state chooses their electors. All twelve of our Electors, in this State, must vote for whichever candidate receives the most votes, from the people, statewide. If Mr. Biden wins by 4% in our State, for example, all 12 of Washington’s electors will vote for Mr. Biden in the Electoral College. This is called the “winner-takes-all” system. Maine and Nebraska are the only States that don’t use the “winner-takes-all” system. Maine, for example, awards two of their Electors to whoever won the election statewide, and then awards one elector to whoever won in each of their Congressional districts.

What’s the controversy?

The Electoral College system has been a point of debate since the Constitution was drafted, and is still hotly debated today. The biggest controversy concerns the nationwide total, or “popular”, vote. Because each state has two Senators, regardless of their population, and therefore two more electors, the amount of electors each state has is not directly proportional to the population of that state. This can create a pretty interesting situation. The winner of the nationwide “popular vote” can end up not being elected President. This has happened five times, but has happened most recently in 2000 and 2016. In 2000, Al Gore, a former Vice President, won the popular vote contest against President George W. Bush, but lost by five Electoral votes. Similarly, in 2016, Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, won the popular vote contest against President Donald Trump, but lost by seventy-seven electoral votes.

This is seen as unfair by about 58% of Americans, according to a Pew Research study conducted earlier this year. A considerable 40% of Americans, however, think the Electoral College should stay in place. Proponents of the Electoral College, including many of the Constitution’s framers, believe that it appropriately balances the interest of smaller states against larger states. Smaller states, they argue, would receive little attention from Presidential candidates if the popular vote was the law of the land. A less-well known argument, however, is based on the fact that the United States is not, in fact, a democracy. Because the United States is a federal democratic-republic, proponents of the Electoral College believe that it is appropriate for the states to elect the President rather than the people at large. Because of the proximity to our election, it would be inappropriate for me to provide my opinion on our voting mechanisms in this setting at this time, confidence in our Constitutional framework is essential. Learning about our system, however, is a non-partisan affair. Ensuring the public understands our civic system is what keeps it alive. As James Madison, chief architect of our Constitution, once argued- “a popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy.” Regardless of how you feel, it is important to know the mechanisms that propel our Commander in Chief into power; after all, many of our own Shorecrest Seniors will be voting this year.