US elections: the Electoral College

Past the popular vote

In the US, you don’t vote directly for president, it’s a two-step process: when you vote for a presidential candidate, you’re automatically voting for the candidate’s special voters, called electors, even though, in most states, their names don’t appear on the ballot. It’s these behind-the-scenes electors who, a few weeks after the general election, actually vote for president. This is the US Electoral College system.

The Electoral College isn’t a regular organization, with a receptionist and coffee machine and monthly meetings. Each election, new electors are chosen for each party, state by state. There are 538 electors in total, representing the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia (as in, Washington, DC). Different states have different numbers of electoral votes, ranging from three electors (Alaska, Vermont, and a couple of others) to 56 (California). The electors never meet as one group, a few weeks after the national election in November, they vote from their respective state capitals, and then they’re done.

So now the question is: why doesn’t the popular vote have the same result as the Electoral College vote—how can 80,000 votes beat three million?