How does the Electoral College work?

Sep 25, 2020, 1:32 PM
white house electoral college...
Photo: Getty Images

Established by the United States Constitution, the Electoral College forms every four years to elect the president and vice president.

How the Electoral College works

Each state’s electors are equal to the number of members in Congress from each state. For instance, Utah has four House representatives in addition to two senators. Therefore, Utah will receive six electoral votes in 2020.

The Senate is composed of 100 senators and the House, 435 representatives. The 23rd Amendment to the Constitution provides the District of Columbia with a number of electors equal to, but no more than, the least populous state, which is currently three. U.S. territories do not receive any electors.

As a result, 538 electors make up the Electoral College. That means a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win the election.

Does every Electoral College vote go to the state’s winner? Not necessarily

The candidate who wins the plurality of each state’s vote tally wins that state’s electors in 48 states and the District of Columbia. In Maine and Nebraska, two electors are assigned in this way; in those two states, electors divide the remaining electoral votes based on the plurality of votes in each congressional district.

States generally require electors to vote for the winner of each state’s vote. Most states have enacted laws to avoid “faithless electors.”

When does the Electoral College meet? 

Electors meet in their state capitals on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their votes. Congress tabulates the results during the first week of January. If neither candidate wins a majority, each state receives one vote for a presidential election session in the House. In the Senate, each senator may cast one vote to elect the vice president.

The president is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Can you lose the popular vote but win the election? Yes.

In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won the Electoral College with 304 votes compared to 227 votes for Hillary Clinton. Clinton received 2.87 million more votes than Trump, which was the fifth and most recent presidential election in which the winning candidate lost the popular vote. 

For more information, see the below graphic from the Associated Press. 

electoral college

Graphic shows scenario in which a presidential candidate can win the popular vote but lose the election. Graphic: AP


Your Voice, Your Vote

Utahns could get a tax cut....

Utah Senate passes a tax cut for Utahns, Gov. Cox says he will sign it

The Utah Senate just unanimously passed a bill, giving Utahns a big tax cut. People in the state could see $193 million back in taxes.
6 months ago
utah poll unfavorable to president biden...
Mary Richards

New poll shows low favorability in Utah for President Biden

The Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows that 45% of Utah residents have a favorable opinion of President Joe Biden, while 3% aren’t sure.
2 years ago
Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., read the final certifica...

Biden win confirmed after violent pro-Trump protestors storms US Capitol

Congress has confirmed Democrat Joe Biden as the presidential election winner, hours after violent protesters loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
2 years ago
president trump trial...
ZEKE MILLER and JILL COLVIN Associated Press

Trump says his term is ending, transition will be orderly

President Donald Trump says there will be an “orderly transition on January 20th” now that Congress has concluded the electoral vote count certifying President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.
2 years ago
(Some of the flags and signs outside the Utah State Capitol.  Credit: Paul Nelson)...
Paul Nelson

Hundreds participate in “Stop The Steal” rally at Utah State Capitol

Hundreds of President Trump’s supporters in Utah gather on the Capitol grounds to protest what they call the stealing of the presidential election. 
2 years ago
washington curfew congress...
Curt Gresseth

DC curfew goes into effect but protesters not leaving

Protesters remained on scene after authorities declared a curfew in the nation's capital amid a day of unrest and violence. 
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

Prescription opioid...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?

Tax Tuesday: The Most Common Mistakes People Make When Filing Their Taxes

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.

Tax Tuesday: How will last year’s child tax credits affect you?

Fortunately, for most average earners, they will not end up owing overpayments received for the Child Tax Credit in 2021.

Tax Tuesday: Key Information Before the Filing Deadline

Businesses can receive a credit of up to $5,000 per employee in 2020 and up to $21,000 per employee in 2021.
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
How does the Electoral College work?