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How we elect our President in the United States. Created by Sal Khan.
Video transcript
In the US we don't directly vote for a president or a vice president. Instead we use something called the "Electoral College" The Electoral College... So, when you show up to vote on Election Day, and Election Day will happen on November of an election year and it could happen as early as November 2nd and it could happen as late as November 8th. And it's going to be the Tuesday after the first Monday in the month. So, it'll be November 2nd if the first Monday is November 1st, and it'll be November 8th if the first Monday is November 7th. 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 and it'll have the vice presidental candidates and you'll vote for one of them. But in actuality, when you're voting for candidate A and let's say candidate A is a democrat. You are not actually voting for candidate A, you are actually voting for a slate of electors who promised to vote for that candidate. So electors for that candidate. And it isn't, in most States, proportional, based on what proportion of people vote for one candidate or another. It's in most of the States, except for Maine or Nebraska, it is a winner takes all system, so what do I mean by that? So, right here we have the break down of the Unites States by state of how many electors each State gets. And the number of Electors is essentially the number of Congressmen that that state has. For example: California has 2 Senators Every state has 2 Senators California has 2 Senators and 53 Congressmen and for those of you who aren't familiar with it Every state gets 2 senators and the House of Representatives is dictated by population California is a huge State, 2 Senators, 53 Representatives you have Texas: 2 Senators and it has 32 Representatives you go to Lousiana: you have 2 Senators and you have 7 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, 9 in Lousiana, 34 in Texas. What is interesting here is it's a winner take all 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 ever 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 actuallity, 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 than it'll 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 tie breaker the big states really, really lose out because in the tie breaker 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 to say in a tie breaker as California will over who will be president and 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 3 electoral votes when it comes to deciding who is going to be president. Now you might already may be beging to have a sense here that maybe this winner takes all system might lead to some distortions and the biggest distortion of all is you can imagine a candidate who wins who wins the popular vote and loses the election, or loses in the electoral college. And you might be thinking 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 lets say there is 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. They get huge majorities in the states that they win and the state that they lose they barely lose. And they barely lose those really big states. So let's say in Florida that candidate, I should say, 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, 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 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 parties 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 canidates, it's not like, let's take a situation, and 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 the majority of the people actually voted for Barack Obama. It is not the case that Kenneth Garret in 2008 would have been the chosen elector. Actually, even though they divide things by district and they have these at large candidates it 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 plege 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 their gonna go to the state capital in the case of Louisiana it would be the Baton Rouge and they will decide who they want to plege their votes to. And all of the electors in all of the states go to their designated location, usually the state Capitol, on the same day and usually that is some day in December and then they pick the president, although by that point everyone know who the president is because the actual election was in early November and people know which way the votes went and which way the 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 3 congressional districts so in those 3 congressional districts if one of them goes to the democrat and two of them goes republican then they'll have 1 electoral vote for the democrat and 2 for the republican. And then they have two at large votes that are decided the same way the kind of the "winner takes all" basis if you take 51% of the vote on a state wide basis you get two at large votes. Same thing for Maine, but Maine has 2 congressional districts so 2 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 you know, the electoral college vote, is it, you can 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. What makes it even a little bit more skewed because it's "winner takes all" and the candidates aren't silly and they wanna make sure that they spend their money and their visits and their time in the most leverageable way it actually creates this weird scenario where candidates will often ignore huge part of the population and they ignore them because those huge parts of the population are unlikely to swing either 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 5 weeks of the 2004 election --let me close that right there...-- of the 2004 election. This top graph shows where they actually spent their time so each these little hands here is a visit in those final 5 weeks and each of these dollar signs is a million dollars spent on marketing and advertising and 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 threshold to get a dollar sign written there so they didn't even spend a million dollars on these huge states they only had a few visits to California and Texas, 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, --this is all Ohio and Florida-- got a ton of more attention, especially on a per person basis they the people in Texas did.