US government and civics
The U.S. uses the Electoral College to elect presidents, not direct voting. Each state gets electors based on its number of congressmen. Most states use a winner-takes-all system, except Maine and Nebraska. A candidate can win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College. This system can lead to candidates focusing on swing states. Created by Sal Khan.
Want to join the conversation?
- Why use a system that is not only more arbitrarily complex but also less fair than a simple vote? What vested interests are maintaining the status quo?(144 votes)
- During the drafting of the constitution, the small states (Rhode Island, Delaware) were worried that they would be run over by the big states (Virginia, New York). The big states wanted representation strictly according to population (the Virginia Plan) and the small states wanted representation strictly by state (the New Jersey Plan). The "Great Compromise" or the Connecticut Plan gave us 1) the senate (rep by state), 2) the house of rep (rep by population), 3) the electoral college and 4) ratification of amendments 'by state' so that we could never fix it. There are a lot of little states that like this way.(172 votes)
- If the Electoral College votes take care of the issue of large states overpowering the smaller states, why does it use a "winner-take-all" system rather than a proportional one? Wouldn't a system that gives candidate A 50% of a state's electoral votes if he/she wins 50% of the popular vote stay truer to the popular vote while weighting each citizens vote more equally?(54 votes)
- Ok. In order to accurately answer the question a few historical facts needs to be addressed. First of all the government created under the new Constitution is a "Republic." The Constitution specifically requires and states that our government is a "Republic." The term "Democracy" was feared by many people at the time the Constitution was created. What’s the difference? A "Republic" is an indirect form of democracy where people rule through elected representatives. The electoral "college" is an example. The term "college" signifies the original intent that it was to be made up of "political wise men." The Electoral College was also the result of a couple of compromises. Much like the rest of the Constitution, the Electoral College was a compromise. It was compromise between the states and the people. The senate originally was not elected directly until the 17th amendment. The intent was that the senate was to represent the states, while the House of Representative was to represent the people. This came out of the "Great Compromise." Likewise the Electoral College was similar compromise. Many of the founders did not think that the average voter had the knowledge necessary to make a decision "DIRECTLY." They did not want the President elected on a “Whim” or by “fad or fancy” so they came up with the Electoral College system. The electors elect the President. If one lives in a rural state or a state with a "small" population the Electoral College usually benefits the "Weight" of your individual vote. In addition it is a safeguard that protects against large states ruling small states. Large states still have more influence; small (population wise) states have the individual votes weighted more. Now all of that being said nothing prevents the individual electors from actually voting against the popular vote of the state or district that they are representing. They may take an oath to vote with the popular vote of the state or district and most states, if not all have laws saying that they must vote with popular vote of the state or district, BUT, since the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land, there is actually nothing that prevents the individual electors from voting against the popular vote except the ramifications of the people in their area. This has in fact happened, for example in the 1960’s the Civil Rights era saw 15 individual electors actually vote against the popular vote. Very rare but it does and can happen. Basically it matters where a candidate wins as much as how much the candidate wins. Otherwise “small” states would be ignored more than they already are in the election process.(74 votes)
- Is it possible that in the future we might, at some point, do away with this system and allow the people to directly vote for their candidates? If this occurs, will it be beneficial for the U.S., or is this complex system just a more suitable way of doing things?(30 votes)
- The electoral college was developed when America was very new, communication and transportation were primitive by today's standards, and the founders did not trust the "common" people to be wise enough to choose the president. (Women were not even allowed to vote until 1920.) Today, we see that there are a handful of "swing" states (like Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, and others) where the presidential candidates devote a huge amount of their time or money to get elected. The vast majority of the states are ignored because they either don't have enough electoral votes to be considered important enough, or the people who live in those states have traditionally voted for one party or the other and so the candidates don't want to waste their time and money in a state where the results are already pretty predictable. The best solution (in my opinion) would simply be to do away with the electoral college completely and have a general election where every vote in every state is equal. The person with the most votes in the entire country would win the election. However, Good Luck getting the American Congress to ever seriously consider changing this antiquated, unfair electoral college system that BOTH parties spend millions of dollars trying to manipulate in their favor. Remember, it took Congress over 150 years just to allow women to vote in these presidential elections. Hope this helps. Good Luck.(50 votes)
- So, if the Electoral College system has such unfair distortions (4:16), why isn't the system changed so that everyone's vote is equal?(29 votes)
- Ok. In order to accurately answer the question a few historical facts needs to be addressed. First of all the government created under the new Constitution is a "Republic." The Constitution specifically requires and states that our government is a "Republic." The term "Democracy" was feared by many people at the time the Constitution was created. What’s the difference? A "Republic" is an indirect form of democracy where people rule through elected representatives. The electoral "college" is an example. The term "college" signifies the original intent that it was to be made up of "political wise men." The Electoral College was also the result of a couple of compromises. Much like the rest of the Constitution, the Electoral College was a compromise. It was compromise between the states and the people. The senate originally was not elected directly until the 17th amendment. The intent was that the senate was to represent the states, while the House of Representative was to represent the people. This came out of the "Great Compromise." Likewise the Electoral College was similar compromise. Many of the founders did not think that the average voter had the knowledge necessary to make a decision "DIRECTLY." They did not want the President elected on a “Whim” or by “fad or fancy” so they came up with the Electoral College system. The electors elect the President. If one lives in a rural state or a state with a "small" population the Electoral College usually benefits the "Weight" of your individual vote. In addition it is a safeguard that protects against large states ruling small states. Large states still have more influence; small (population wise) states have the individual votes weighted more. Now all of that being said nothing prevents the individual electors from actually voting against the popular vote of the state or district that they are representing. They may take an oath to vote with the popular vote of the state or district and most states, if not all have laws saying that they must vote with popular vote of the state or district, BUT, since the Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land, there is actually nothing that prevents the individual electors from voting against the popular vote except the ramifications of the people in their area. This has in fact happened, for example in the 1960’s the Civil Rights era saw 15 individual electors actually vote against the popular vote. Very rare but it does and can happen. Basically it matters where a candidate wins as much as how much the candidate wins. Otherwise “small” states would be ignored more than they already are in the election process.(29 votes)
- Sal talks about certain ways that this system is "unfair", but are there other ways that this system has advantages over a more simple approach that might have led to it being designed this way? When and how was this system developed, and why was it designed the way that it was?(14 votes)
- America is still young right now the system is working for America do not tip the boat over.(4 votes)
- What would happen if a candidate won a plurality of the votes in a state, but because of third parties, didn't win a majority? For example, the Democrat gets 49% the Republican gets 47% and the Green party gets 4%. None of them got the majority (50.1 or more.) but the Democrat got the plurality, the highest amount of votes.
I'd assume it just goes to the candidate with the plurality?(11 votes)
- In the United States we use a voting system called First Past the Post (FPP) meaning you don't need a majority to win an election only a plurality.(0 votes)
- Why can Maine and Nebraska split electoral votes? I think they passed a law or something, but wouldn't that be a more fair system, so more states should that? Why only two?(5 votes)
- Most states don't want to give up the power that comes from voting as a block. However, a lot of states have passed legislation that says that once most or all of the other states agree to change, they'll go along.(6 votes)
- Around01:00, Sal says the guy promises to vote for this person instead of you actually voting. Can someone explain this further?(1 vote)
- What he's explaining at1:00is that you vote for the candidate that the elector of your district has to vote for. Then the electors vote for the person that they want to be President (99 times out of 100, the person his district wants).(12 votes)
- Will America ever get rid of the Electoral College? If so, when?(6 votes)
- I gave a similar answer to an earlier question, but it would, in fact, be detrimental to remove the electoral college, because the states with larger populations would be the only ones needed to solicit votes. And so the president would be elected not by the people , but by the larger states.(2 votes)
- I would only say you don't need a majority of the votes in a given state; just a plurality to receive the electors. This could happen when there are more than two candidates for president who have slates of electors on the ballot. This happened in 1996 in Florida where President Clinton received 48.02% of the vote but had a plurality of the votes according to the official tally. This happens when a 3rd party candidate (Perot that year) receives a large number of votes.(5 votes)
- We have the electoral college so it's fair for every state, and that so not only you and friends are voting, but your state is voting(4 votes)
In the US, we don't directly vote for our president or vice president. Instead, we use something called the Electoral College. So when you show up to vote on Election Day-- and an election day will happen in November of an election year. And it could happen as early as November 2, and it could happen as late as November 8. And it's going to be the Tuesday after the first Monday in the month. So it'll be November 2 if the first Monday is November 1, and it'll be November 8 if the first Monday is November 7. And so you go on election day, and you will see a ballot that will have the presidential candidates. It'll have their parties there. It will have the vice presidential candidates, and you'll vote for one of them. But in actuality, when you are voting for Candidate A-- and let's say Candidate A is a Democrat-- you're not actually voting for Candidate A. You're actually voting for a slate of electors who promise to vote for that candidate. And it isn't in most states proportional based on what proportion of people vote for one candidate or another. In most of the states, except for Maine and Nebraska, it is a winner take all system. So what do I mean by that? So right here, you have the breakdown of the United States, by state, of how many electors words each state gets. And the number of electors is essentially the number of congressmen that that state has. For example, California has two senators. Every state has two senators. California has two senators and 53 congressmen. And those of you who aren't familiar with it, every state gets two senators, and the House of Representatives is dictated by population. California is a huge state, two senators, 53 representatives. You have Texas, two senators and it has 32 representatives. You go to Louisiana, you have two senators and you have seven representatives. So the electors per state is based on the total number of congressmen, so the number of senators plus the number of representatives. That's what gives us 55 in California, nine in Louisiana, 34 in Texas. But what's interesting here is it's a winner take all system in every state except for Nebraska and Maine. In every other state, if I get 51% of the vote in Texas, I get all 34 electoral votes in the Electoral College. If I get 51% or even if I get 50.1%, just a slight majority of the votes in California, I will get all of the votes for California in the Electoral College. And in general, or in actuality, the president is whoever gets the majority of the electoral votes in the United States. And right now, that threshold is, or that magic number-- you could think of it that way-- is 270 Electoral College votes. If no candidate is able to hit this threshold of 270 Electoral College votes, then it will go to the US Congress. And in the US Congress, it's interesting, because it isn't one congressman, one vote. Or actually, I should say the US House of Representatives. It'll go to the US House of Representatives. And it won't be one representative, one vote. What will happen is the representatives in each state will vote together, and each state will get only one vote. So in a tiebreaker, the big states really, really lose out, because in a tiebreaker, Texas will get only one vote. California will get one vote. And Alaska will get one vote, and Rhode Island will get one vote. So Rhode Island will have just as much say in a tiebreaker as California will over who will be president. Then they'll just keep voting until someone gets a simple majority of the votes by state. Now, there's one other twist here. It's that the District of Columbia-- Washington, DC right over here-- in Congress gets no representatives. They have no senators, and they have no representatives. But they do get three electoral votes when it comes to deciding who is going to be president. Now, you might already be getting a sense here that maybe this winner take all system might lead to some distortions, and the biggest distortion of all is you can imagine a candidate who wins the popular vote and loses the election or loses in the Electoral College. And you might think, well, gee, how can that happen? And the way to think about it is, imagine someone-- let's say someone gets-- with the states that they win, they get huge majorities. So let's say there's a conservative candidate, and he or she gets huge majorities in the states they win. 80% in Texas. They get 80% in Mississippi. They get 80% in Oklahoma. The get huge majorities in the states that they win. And the states that they lose, they barely lose. And they barely lose those really big states. So let's say in Florida, that candidate gets 49% of the vote. So they had a lot of votes in Florida, but not enough to win it. The other person, let's say, gets 51%. All 27 go to the other candidate. Let's say the same thing happens in California. That candidate got 49% of the vote. The opponent, let's say, gets 51% of the vote. All 55 go to California. You get no credit for that 49%. You get no credit for that 49% in Florida. So in this situation, this candidate might actually end up with the majority, barely losing the states they lose, and trouncing the other candidate in the states that they win, but despite that, actually getting fewer Electoral College votes. Now, there's a few clarifications I want to make, especially ones that have confused me in the past. One of them is because you have the same number of Electoral College votes as you have US representatives plus senators, there's kind of this feeling that maybe each district sends its own elector to the state capital to decide who the president is. And it doesn't quite work that way. So this right here is the panel of electors for Louisiana in 2008. And you can see right over here, each of the parties have their own slate of electors. And these are either decided by the party themselves, or they're decided by the candidates' teams. And even though you have someone here for each district and then you have these at-large candidates, it's not like-- let's take a situation. This actually happened in Louisiana, where John McCain got a majority of the state. So John McCain and Sarah Palin got a majority of the state. It's not the case that-- let's say in the second district, which is New Orleans, let's say that the second district, a majority of the people actually voted for Barack Obama. It is not the case that Kenneth Garrett in 2008 would have been the chosen elector. Even though they divide things by district and they have these at-large candidates, it is actually a state-wide election. So they don't look at who won each of the districts. They just say, look, John McCain and Sarah Palin won the entire state. So all of these electors are the ones that are going to go to the state capital in December and decide who they want to pledge their vote for. So even if Obama won just the Second Congressional District, that's not how it's thought about in the Electoral College. It's just a state-wide election. McCain got the majority of the state. All of the electors will be chosen from McCain's slate or from the Republican Party slate. And then they're going to go to the state capital. In the case of Louisiana, it would be Baton Rouge. And they will decide who they want to pledge their votes to. And all of the electors in all of the states go to their designated location, usually the state capital, on the same day. And usually that is some day in December. And they pick the president, although by that point, everyone knows who the president is, because the actual election was in early November. And people know which way the votes went and which way the actual Electoral College votes went. Now, I did mention that there are two states that don't do this winner take all, Nebraska and Maine. And in Nebraska and Maine, when you go vote, it really is by congressional district. Nebraska has three congressional districts. So in those three congressional districts, if one of them goes to the Democrat and two goes to the Republican, then they'll have one electoral vote for the Democrat and two for the Republican. And then they have two at-large votes that are decided the same way, in kind of the winner take all basis. If you get 51% of the vote on a statewide basis, you get the two at-large votes. Same thing for Maine, but Maine has two congressional districts. So two of the congressional districts could go either way. And then the at-large are based on a state-wide vote. Now, you could imagine the other kind of unfair thing here, other than the popular vote versus the Electoral College vote. You could imagine it makes some states better represented than others. So if you just divide population by the number of electors, you see the larger states, each elector is representing many, many more people. This is California right here. Each elector is representing over 600,000 people. And in the smaller states-- this is Wyoming right here-- each elector is representing under 200,000 people. So in Wyoming, people are getting kind of three times the representation as they would in California on a per capita vote. But what makes it even a little bit more skewed, because it's winner take all and the candidates aren't silly and they want to make sure that they spend their money and their visits and their time in the most leveragable way, it actually creates this weird scenario where candidates will often ignore huge parts of the population. And they ignore them because those huge parts of the population are unlikely to swing one way or the other. So for example, California is very reliably Democratic and Texas is very reliably Republican. So this right here-- this is a fascinating graph, at least in my mind-- it shows where George W. Bush and John Kerry spent the last five weeks of the 2004 election. Let me close that right there. This top graph shows where they actually spent their time, so each of these little hands here is a visit in those final five weeks. And each of these dollar signs is a million dollars spent on marketing and advertising, on ads and whatever else, in those states. And you can see, California and Texas, the two biggest states, they didn't spend enough money to the threshold to get dollar a sign written there. So they didn't even spend $1,000,000 on these huge states. They only had a few visits to California, and Texas had no visits in the final five weeks. So what happens is that candidates spend a disproportionate amount of attention and money in the states that are more likely to swing one way or another. So the people in Florida or in Ohio-- so this is Ohio and Florida-- got a ton more attention, especially on a per person basis, than the people in Texas did.