Electoral College (United States)

As the Electoral College (English for the electoral college ) the Panel is called in the United States, which elects the president and vice president every four years. It is described in the second article of the Constitution of the United States and currently consists of 538 electors (English Electors ) that are sent from the 50 states and the Federal District. The electors of each state are, with two exceptions, determined by the candidate who has obtained the simple majority of votes in their respective States.

The electoral process has been adapted twice by constitutional amendment: 1803 by the 12th Amendment and 1961 by the 23 Amendment.


Each state has as many electors as it has representatives in both houses of Congress together. The Federal District has as many electors as it would have representatives in both houses of Congress, if it were a State, but in any case no longer than the smallest in terms of population fro state.

The present number of 538 electoral votes arises therefore as follows:

  • The House of Representatives since 1911 has a fixed size of 435 deputies. The distribution of the deputies to the States is determined by the Hill - Huntington method according to the population figures that are in the census, the United States Census, collected every 10 years. The last time this was before the presidential election in the United States 2012 case. Each state has at least one deputy.
  • In addition, each state has independent of the population two senators in the Senate, so currently 100 changes can be found here only the accession of other states.
  • The federal district may send up as many electors as the least populated state. Seven states currently have only one representative, so that the number of electors is limited for the Federal District to 3 (corresponding to two senators and one representative ). However, he would have without this restriction no longer electors because it has only a little more inhabitants than the currently least populated state, Wyoming.



The election of the President and the Vice -President will be indirectly every four years on election day. Although the ballot usually contain the names of the candidates for president and vice president today itself, the voters directly determine only the electors for the state in which they reside, or for the Federal District, if they reside in Washington DC have. Select this electoral later the president and vice president.

In most U.S. states and the Federal District, the majority voting applies. This gives the candidate who obtains the most votes, the state of all allocated electors, while the other candidates away empty. The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, where the choice of similar runs the congressional elections: for each constituency of these two states, the candidate receives the most votes a choice man (similar to the House of Representatives ), while the candidate with the majority of votes in the state two more electoral receives (similar to the Senate ). This method is used in Maine since 1972 and Nebraska since 1996. For the first time during the 2008 presidential election in Nebraska, a division of electoral votes is carried out on two candidates. This late premiere is mainly attributed to the so-called gerrymandering, in which the electoral districts are cut so that a party normally has in it the majority.

Convening and counting

The electors meet 41 days after polling day in the capitals of their respective states and cast their votes. According to the Electoral College never occurs in one place together as a joint body. The ballots are sealed and sent to the incumbent Vice President in his official duties as President of the Senate.

On the first sitting day of the new U.S. Congress, which is fixed by the constitution since 1933 on January 6, the ballots are counted in the presence of both chambers. President and Vice President are the candidates, each of which an absolute majority of votes.

Regulations for unsuccessful dialing

If no presidential candidate receives an absolute majority, the new House of Representatives must be one of three candidates who received the highest number of votes in the Electoral College, choose the president. The delegation votes each Federal State from each together and gets only one vote jointly. The vote of any state is determined by the majority of its members. Is there an equality of votes within the delegation, the vote is counted as an abstention. The ballot shall be repeated until a candidate receives an absolute majority. With 50 states in the United States would therefore have the delegations of at least 26 votes for the same candidate.

If no vice presidential candidate receives an absolute majority of the Senate, a similar process must use, but only selects between the two candidates with the highest number of votes. The two senators of a state must not vote together, so they can be for different candidates speak. It is not clear whether the Vice President in this situation in a tie, the casting vote, especially as he would here, tuning may on its own next vice-presidency, or as in the case of Al Gore about his own future Vice.

If the House of Representatives until the day of the planned inauguration, recognized by the Constitution since 1933 on January 20, can not agree, the new Vice President carries out the business of the President until the House shall elect a new president. If there is no new Vice President on January 20, the legal successor of the President shall enter into force. Thus, the Speaker of the House would the official duties of the President to execute until the House of Representatives a new president or the Senate shall elect a new Vice-President.

It is not clearly stated what happens when until the day of the inauguration, although a new president was elected, but the Senate can not agree on a vice-president. On the one hand determined by the 12th Amendment to the Constitution, the Senate shall elect a new Vice-President, without setting a time limit. On the other hand, prescribes the 25th Amendment, that the President shall appoint, with the approval of both houses of Congress, a new Vice President if the office is vacant.

By 2006 the House of Representatives has twice elected the President Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824., The Senate has only once elected a Vice-President, Richard M. Johnson, 1836.

Unbound awareness of voters will

In 24 states (as of 2002), the electors are free to decide for a candidate, that could also vote against the voters desire. In 26 states and Washington, D.C. are the electors, however, by law - and also often by vow to the State or their party - obliged to vote for a particular candidate; Virginia in the text of the law, however, could (not a requirement) can also be read as a recommendation. In practice, only the supporters of presidential candidates are determined as electors in each state.

An elector who votes against the voters desire is called a faithless elector.

Criticism of the electoral system

Surveys, which date back to the year 1944 show that a consistent majority of Americans support the idea of direct election of the president. Critics of the system of simple majority voting and the consistent implementation of competitive democracy in Mourning " winner- takes-all " principle, that the election campaign mainly focused on the swing states ( states without a clear majority ) and thus the concerns of voters preferred in these states would. For example, promised in the 2008 election campaign, both Barack Obama and John McCain as new space flights perform (but to concretize or sought contact with experts with no plans to have ): In the swing state of Florida, the NASA tens of thousands of jobs.

Another point of criticism is that the voices of the voters who voted for the minority, always go by the board, even if they account for a significant proportion (in extreme cases it meant California in 2004, for example, that in this state of 4.5 million George - W. - Bush voters were not counted, for John Kerry on the other hand almost 3.5 million votes were then ignored because the other one had won the state and thus completely all electors for the electoral College got ) alone in Florida.

Finally, the electors represent one country to a different number of inhabitants; although the number of electors should correspond roughly to the population size, for example, represent the three electors from Wyoming per 187 875 inhabitants, the 18 electors of Ohio per 640 917 inhabitants and the 55 electors of California per 677 345 inhabitants (population figures for 2010 ).

In extreme cases, the choice can the presidential candidate who obtains nationwide the most votes, but lose because his opponent gets more electoral votes. This occurred in the history of the United States four times: in 1824 already achieved 38 149 Andrew Jackson more votes (1.4%) than the selected president John Quincy Adams. However, at that time general elections were not conducted in all states ( in part could create should vote for who their electors the state government ), as well as Jackson received the most electoral votes ( 99 - Adams received 84). However, since no candidate received an absolute majority in the electoral college, the president was constitutionally elected by the House of Representatives, and there lost Jackson. 1876 ​​Samuel J. Tilden won the popular vote nationwide ( lead by 254 235 or 3.1%), but in the disputed presidential election in 1876 gave three states duplicate votes to their electors; the Commission, which should find a way out of the crisis, finally agreed just according to the political views of its members for a solution that helped Rutherford B. Hayes to the presidency. 1888 President Grover Cleveland was confirmed, according to a majority vote ( 90 596 or 0.8 %) in office, but was in the 65 electors voting behind Benjamin Harrison back. A similar result was found again only in 2000, when Al Gore in the election 543 895 votes (0.5%) received more than George W. Bush, Bush won but five electors more. - However, the United States -wide majority (the theoretical " popular election majority" ), a statistically questionable construct, because the voter turnout in the rules applicable to one or the other party as safe countries usually much will be lower than in the battleground states. In addition, the campaign tactics of presidential candidates is designed for precisely that electoral system and not a popular election.

Alternatively, proposals and counter criticism

  • Implemented legislative initiative
  • Legislative initiative in discussion, not yet legally
  • Legislative initiative failed

Despite the criticism of the majority electoral system by the Electoral College, the prospects for the introduction of a proportional representation are (so far never realized) or a district -based electoral law (as before only in Maine and Nebraska) in individual states low: In Colorado, for example, a draft amendment to the Electoral Act in 2004 rejected by the citizens. The problem is that the "winner takes all" principle, the importance of the individual state increases for the candidates, making it appear unlikely that individual states to abolish this system while it remains in force in other. The Constitution expressly gives the states the right to decide on the selection mode. A constitutional amendment could change this, but he also would have to be approved by a three-fourths majority of the states.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact provides an alternative without constitutional change: the individual states adopt laws that obligate their respective electors to vote for the candidate who across the U.S. receives the most votes. The sticking point is that the states make these arrangements to the condition that at least 270 electors (the absolute majority ) are also bound by the control. De facto would thus replaced the electoral system from a majority vote, but it would require neither a constitutional amendment nor - at least according to the size of the consenting states - the approval of three- fourths of the states. Maryland was the first state that has passed a similar law in 2007. Only seven other states, including California as a state with the most electoral votes and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws in other states run more legislative process. This 132 electors, or about 49 percent of the required 270 electoral already have an obligation to choose the candidate with the most votes - provided the other states are following suit.

However, proportional representation is seen not only positive. Because it can cause quite a spread over many countries, perhaps relatively weak relative majority is sufficient to win the elections. In the U.S., where traditionally exactly two parties play a role and the election to the presidency requires an absolute majority of the electors, the idea of more than two major parties and weak relative majorities generated concerns about political destabilization.


Clause of proportional representation: see section alternative proposals and counter- criticism.

* Although Washington D.C. not a federal state, it has due to the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States three electors.