Hey Heidi! How does the Electoral College work?

By Heidi Glaus

St. Louis (KSDK) -- The Electoral College is something we learn about in grade school, but often forget how it works. NewsChannel 5 viewer Kay Howlett wanted a refresher, so NewsChannel 5's Heidi Glaus set out to find out the answer in this week's Hey Heidi! segment.

As we head to the polls Tuesday to mark our ballots, you might not realize the person you're really voting for isn't actually on the ballot.

"Well, each state has decided to basically elect electors based upon the popular vote in that state," explains Saint Louis University Law Professor Joel Goldstein.

It's a process our founding fathers came up with in 1787 fearing we the people wouldn't be well-informed.

"One group wanted to do it by direct popular vote another group wanted to do it by having Congress elect the president," Goldstein points out.

So they compromised by creating the Electoral College.

"In 48 of the states, whoever wins the popular vote, even if you win the popular vote of the state by one vote, you get all of the state's electoral votes," Goldstein adds.

There is, however, the problem of the unfaithful elector.

"It doesn't happen very often because the political parties choose the electors, so they're choosing people who they think will be reliable," Goldstein explains.

Typically the candidate who wins the popular vote wins the electoral vote, but not always.

"When John Quincy Adams was elected president, Andrew Jackson actually won the popular vote," Goldstein says.

It's happened four times actually.

"And then of course in 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by more than 500,000, but narrowly lost when he lost Florida," Goldstein adds.

Florida has 29 electoral votes. Missouri has 10 and Illinois has20.

"Each state gets two electors for each senator and at least one for each member of the house," Goldstein says.

In case you forgot, there are 538 all together, meaning a candidate must have 270 to win. It's a system that has its flaws, but probably won't change anytime too soon.

"To change it would requiretwo-thirds majority in the house and the senate and then three-fourthsof the states and it's unlikely that's going to happen," Goldstein says.


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