- Electoral votes per state in the 2020 presidential election
- Faithless electors
- Faithless electors in the 2016 election
- In the Constitution
- XII Amendment
- XXIII Amendment
- Selection of elector candidates
- Elector nominations
- Election of electors
- Arguments in favor of the Electoral College
- Geographically distributed national support
- Enhanced minority influence
- Two party system stability
- Maintains federal system of representation
- Arguments against the Electoral College
- Chance of majority candidate losing
- Historical instances
- Depressed voter turnout
- Inaccurate reflection of the population
- Noteworthy events
- Supreme Court rules states can enforce laws penalizing faithless electors (2020)
- Recent news
- See also
- External links
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The Electoral College is the process by which the states and District of Columbia elect the president of the United States. Each state and D.C. is represented by a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation. There are 538 electors in total. To win the Electoral College, a candidate must receive a majority—at least 270—electoral votes.
The Electoral College met on December 14, 2020, to cast their votes for president and vice president of the United States. The final tally was 306 electoral votes for former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D) and 232 electoral votes for President Donald Trump (R) and Vice President Mike Pence (R).
See more: us election each state
Although there is no constitutional provision or federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the election results in their state, electors typically vote for their state’s popular vote winner. Some states have provisions permitting the disqualification and replacement of an elector whose vote deviates from the state’s popular vote. There were no faithless electors in 2020.
This page provides the following information about the Electoral College:
- Electoral votes per state
- Faithless electors
- Arguments in favor of the Electoral College
- Arguments against the Electoral College
- Noteworthy events
Electoral votes per state in the 2020 presidential election
See also: Presidential election, 2020
The following map shows the number of electoral votes per state in the 2020 presidential election.
Faithless electors are members of the Electoral College who do not cast a vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged. While thirty-three states and the District of Columbia require electors to vote for the candidate they are pledged to, only 14 of those states have an enforcement mechanism to replace a faithless elector and his or her deviant vote, according to FairVote.
The following table shows state laws binding electors, where applicable:
Overview of state laws binding electors Jurisdiction Electors Statute Penalty under law Vote outcome under law Alabama 9 Ala. Code § 17-14-31 No penalty Vote counted as cast Alaska 3 Alaska Stat. § 15.30.090 No penalty Vote counted as cast Arizona 11 Ariz. Rev. Stat § 16-212 No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Arkansas 6 N/A N/A N/A California 55 Cal. Elec. Code §§ 6906, 18002, State determination Penalty Vote counted as cast Colorado 9 Colo Rev. Stat. § 1-4-304, Secretary of State determination No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Connecticut 7 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 9-176 No penalty Vote counted as cast Delaware 3 Del. Code Ann. tit. 15, § 4303(b) No penalty Vote counted as cast District of Columbia 3 D.C. Code § 1-1001.08(g) No penalty Vote counted as cast Florida 29 Fla. Stat. § 103.021(1) No penalty Vote counted as cast Georgia 16 N/A N/A N/A Hawaii 4 Haw. Rev. Stat. § 14-28 No penalty Vote counted as cast Idaho 4 N/A N/A N/A Illinois 20 N/A N/A N/A Indiana 11 Ind. Code § 3-10-4-1.7; 3-10-4-9 (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Iowa 6 Iowa Code § 54.8 No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Kansas 6 N/A N/A N/A Kentucky 8 N/A N/A N/A Louisiana 8 N/A N/A N/A Maine 4 Me. Stat. tit. 21-A, § 805(2), State determination No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Maryland 10 Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law §8-505 No penalty Vote counted as cast Massachusetts 11 Mass Gen. Laws ch. 53, § 8 No penalty Vote counted as cast Michigan 16 Mich. Comp. Laws § 168.47 No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Minnesota 10 Minn. Stat. § 208.46 (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Mississippi 6 Miss. Code Ann. § 23-15-785 No penalty Vote counted as cast Missouri 10 N/A N/A N/A Montana 3 Mont. Code Ann. § 13-25-307 (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Nebraska 5 Neb. Rev. Stat. § 32-714(3) (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Nevada 6 Nev. Rev. Stat. § 298.075(2) (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector New Hampshire 4 N/A N/A N/A New Jersey 14 N/A N/A N/A New Mexico 5 N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-15-9 Penalty Vote counted as cast New York 29 N/A N/A N/A North Carolina 15 N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-212 Penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector North Dakota 3 N/A N/A N/A Ohio 18 Ohio Rev. Code § 3505.40 No penalty Vote counted as cast Oklahoma 7 Okla. Stat. tit. 26, § 10-102, § 10-108, § 10-109 Penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Oregon 7 Or. Rev. Stat. § 248.355(2) No penalty Vote counted as cast Pennsylvania 20 N/A N/A N/A Rhode Island 4 N/A N/A N/A South Carolina 9 S.C. Code Ann. § 7-19-80 Penalty Vote counted as cast South Dakota 3 N/A N/A N/A Tennessee 11 Tenn. Code Ann. § 2-15-104(c) No penalty Vote counted as cast Texas 38 N/A N/A N/A Utah 6 Utah Code Ann. § 20A-13-304 No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector Vermont 3 Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 17, § 2732 No penalty Vote counted as cast Virginia 13 Va. Code Ann. § 24.2-203 No penalty Vote counted as cast Washington 12 Wash. Rev. Code §§ 29A.56.090 (Uniform Faithful Presidential Electors Act) No penalty Failure to vote as pledged cancels the vote and replaces the elector West Virginia 5 Wis. Stat. § 7.75(2) No penalty Vote counted as cast Wisconsin 10 N/A N/A N/A Wyoming 3 Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 22-19-108 No penalty Vote counted as cast
Faithless electors in the 2016 election
See also: Presidential election, 2016
There were seven faithless electors in the 2016 election. Donald Trump (R) was projected to win 306 votes, but two Republican electors in Texas voted for other individuals: Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) and 2012 presidential candidate and former Rep. Ron Paul (R). Trump won Texas by approximately 10 points.
Chris Suprun, the elector who voted for Kasich, discussed his vote in an op-ed for The Hill: “Never in American history has a president-elect presented more conflict of interest questions and foreign entanglements than Donald Trump. Surely, electors have a constitutional duty if, after the popular vote but before the electoral vote, there emerges credible evidence that they are electing someone who is constitutionally ineligible to serve as President.” He encouraged his fellow electors to defect from Trump, saying, “Stand up and be counted. History will remember what you do in this moment.”
Four Democratic electors in Washington state did not vote for Hillary Clinton (D), who won the state by almost 16 points. Three electors voted for former Secretary of State Colin Powell (R), who did not run for president in 2016. A fourth voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American tribal leader from South Dakota. The electors who voted for Powell said their votes were not against Clinton. One elector said that she voted for Powell “in the hopes that Democrats and Republicans could reconcile.” The elector who voted for Faith Spotted Eagle, Robert Satiacum, said his vote was about environmental concerns. “It’s all about the water. We need leaders who understand that,” said Satiacum. Faith Spotted Eagle was involved in protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota throughout 2015 and 2016. Satiacum had earlier said in November 2016 that he would not vote for Clinton.
One Democratic elector in Hawaii voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), who ran against Clinton for the 2016 Democratic nomination. Clinton won Hawaii by 32 points in the general election. Sanders won the state’s caucuses during the Democratic primaries by close to 40 points.
Faithless electors in the 2016 election State Statewide winner Who electoral vote was cast for Hawaii Clinton Bernie Sanders Texas Trump John Kasich Texas Trump Ron Paul Washington Clinton Colin Powell Washington Clinton Colin Powell Washington Clinton Colin Powell Washington Clinton Faith Spotted Eagle
The Framers of the Constitution struggled to determine an effective way of electing a president and debated a number of solutions, each with its own issues in a developing nation. Selection by voters, Congress, and state legislatures were considered. The following issues were raised for each option:
- Direct election: Communication and transportation made campaigning nearly impossible, meaning candidates in highly populated areas would be favored due to local recognition.
- Congressional election: Congressional election could lead to political bargaining and susceptibility to international influences.
- State legislature election: State legislatures could lead to the erosion of federal powers because the president would show favor to the electors.
The Framers came up with a compromise by creating the Electoral College. Electors, equaling the number from each state’s congressional delegation, would be chosen to cast the votes for president. Initially, each elector was given two votes. The candidate with the second-highest vote total was elected vice president. Each state’s legislature was permitted to form the rules on how the electors were chosen. The original rules of the Electoral College included the following:
- Electors were to meet separately in their states in order to mitigate brokering political deals.
- Electors did not gather together to cast their votes.
- At least one of the candidates had to be chosen from a state other than the elector’s.
- A vote equaling at least the majority of the number of the electors was required to elect a president.
- The United States Congress set the dates to meet electors.
In the Constitution
The Framers included the formation of the Electoral College in Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution. The following text is a transcription of the Constitution in its original form. Sections that are linked have since been amended or superseded:
The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.
The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.
No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by Law provide for the Case of Removal, Death, Resignation or Inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what Officer shall then act as President, and such Officer shall act accordingly, until the Disability be removed, or a President shall be elected.
The President shall, at stated Times, receive for his Services, a Compensation, which shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected, and he shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.
Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:-“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The original rules did not establish separate votes for president and vice president. Instead, the winner was named president and the runner-up vice president. In 1800, this system resulted in a tie between both members of the Democratic-Republican ticket, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. The tie went to the United States House of Representatives to be resolved, which led to the passage of the 12th Amendment.
The 12th Amendment was ratified in 1804 and created the following rules:
- Each state’s electors were to meet in one location, but separate from other states’ delegations.
- The safe harbor provision was added. The provision provided that if a state’s results were disputed and the state’s legislature passed a procedure to resolve the issue, a finalized agreement can be made within six days prior to the election.
- Votes for president and vice president were cast as separate ballots, and holding true to the Constitution, one of the votes had to be for someone outside of the elector’s state.
The following text is a transcription of the 12th Amendment in its original form. Sections that are linked have since been amended or superseded:
“ The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; – the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; – The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” ”
The 23rd Amendment was ratified in 1961. The amendment allocated electoral votes to the District of Columbia equal to the number of delegates it would have if it were a state, but not to exceed the number of votes given to the least populated state.
The 23rd Amendment reads as follows:
The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:
A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Selection of elector candidates
Each state is charged with establishing how electors are chosen. The only people barred from serving as electors by the Constitution are those who hold an “Office of Trust or Profit under the United States,” including members of the legislature and judiciary, federal law enforcement officers and military personnel and other public employees of the federal government.
Thirty-two states use state party conventions to nominate major party candidates to the position of elector. Five states use the state party’s central committee to nominate candidates. Other methods include nomination by governor, nominations based on unspecified party, the use of primary elections and by the state’s preferred presidential candidate. Minor party candidates have different state specified nominations.
Election of electors
Originally, the electors were chosen by the legislators in each state. However, voters now choose all electors nationwide. When voters go to the polls on election day, they cast votes for the electors who are nominated for each presidential candidate’s party. In 48 of the 50 states, a “winner-take-all” system is used to determine where all of the state’s electoral votes will go. Whichever party’s electors receive the most votes get to allocate all of the state’s votes to their chosen candidate for both president and vice president. The exceptions to the “winner-take-all” system are Maine and Nebraska. These states split the votes based on districts.
Arguments in favor of the Electoral College
Geographically distributed national support
Since no single region contains a majority of electoral votes, candidates cannot win by focusing only on regional issues while leaving other areas of the country out. It also encourages a candidate to select a running mate from a different region in order to build coalitions of states while campaigning. Those who support this theory suggest that even more important that winning a majority vote, is the ability to gain wide distribution of support across the country. In the event that the popular vote is very close, the thought is that the candidate with a wider distribution of support would beat a candidate with more popular support.
Enhanced minority influence
In states with concentrations of ethnic and racial minorities or special interest groups, often being states with high numbers of electoral votes, winning over those groups can swing an election due to the “winner-takes-all” system in the Electoral College. The votes of minority groups can carry more influence than their amount of votes would suggest.
Two party system stability
For a third party to win the presidency, they would need to have enough electoral votes to prevent a majority to any candidate and have enough U.S. House support to be elected over the two major party candidates. Because of this, the Electoral College process essentially forces third party voters to merge into one of the two major parties. Likewise, the two major parties, seeking the votes to win the election can mold their platforms to gain the votes of third party movements. The goal is to have two parties representing the centers of their respective platforms. Supporters of this theory suggest that extremists would have more incentive to campaign if the elections were based solely on popular vote, because if runoff elections were required to win the presidency, parties would tend toward more radical platforms to gain more support.
Maintains federal system of representation
As a requirement by the federal system of the United States, certain responsibilities must be left up to the states when it comes to representation in the federal government. The structure of the Electoral College provides the states the ability to determine the outcome of presidential elections, due to its similar setup to the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate, balancing the power of smaller states with that of the most populous.
Arguments against the Electoral College
Chance of majority candidate losing
There are three possible ways a presidential candidate could lose the popular vote but still be elected as president.
- If three candidates split the electoral votes in a way that none reach the majority required, either one candidate would have to withdraw from the race and give the support of his electors to another candidate, or the U.S. House of Representatives would be charged with electing the president, per the 12th Amendment.
- If one candidate’s support was heavily concentrated in more populous states, but another candidate’s support is spread out geographically and by only a slim majority, a candidate receiving only a minority of the popular vote could win the electoral vote.
- If a third party received enough votes that no candidate gets more than 50% of the popular vote, candidates can still be elected by a majority electoral vote. This is not uncommon in U.S. history and has happened 15 times.
- In 1824, four candidates split the electoral college vote in a way that none received the majority. John Quincy Adams was elected president by the House even though Andrew Jackson received more electoral votes.
- In 1836, the Whig Party ran three candidates in different areas of the country. Their thought was that the local candidates would win their party the majority of electoral votes at which time, they would choose amongst themselves who would be president. The Democratic-Republican candidate, Martin Van Buren, won the majority electoral vote and the presidency.
- In 1876, Samuel J. Tilden (D) won the popular vote but lost the electoral majority by one vote to Rutherford B. Hayes (R).
- In 1888, Grover Cleveland (D) won the popular vote but lost the electoral majority to Benjamin Harrison (R).
- In 2000, Al Gore (D) won the popular vote but lost the electoral majority to George W. Bush (R).
- In 2016, Hillary Clinton (D) won the popular vote but lost the electoral majority to Donald Trump (R).
Depressed voter turnout
Since a candidate with a majority of the popular vote can still lose a presidential election, some argue it creates a disincentive to participate in the presidential election. No matter how high the voter turnout is, the state still receives the same amount of electoral votes for a presidential candidate. Others do not believe this is an issue because of the other offices at stake during any particular election day, from state offices to U.S. House and Senate seats.
Inaccurate reflection of the population
Because each state has a minimum of three electoral votes, votes from those in the least populated states count more toward the electoral vote than votes from those in more populous states. For instance, in 1988, the seven least populated states combined to count for as many electoral votes as Florida, yet the total population of those states was less than that of Florida.
Another example of the failure to provide an accurate reflection of the population is when it comes to third party candidates. If a third party candidate does not carry a majority in any state, they could carry a significant minority of the popular vote throughout the country, but they may not get a single electoral vote in the election.
Supreme Court rules states can enforce laws penalizing faithless electors (2020)
See also: Chiafalo v. Washington See also: Colorado Department of State v. Baca
On July 6, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued rulings in two connected cases that upheld the constitutionality of penalties for faithless electors. Chiafalo v. Washington and Colorado Department of State v. Baca were consolidated when originally granted review by the court. On March 10, 2020, the cases were no longer consolidated but remained linked.
In Chiafalo v. Washington, the state of Washington fined electors after they voted contrary to Washington state law requiring that they cast their electoral college ballots for the winner of the popular vote. The electors claimed the fines were unconstitutional and appealed them to an administrative law judge, who upheld the imposition of the fine. The electors appealed to the Thurston County Superior Court. The court affirmed the secretary of state’s decision. On appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, the appellants moved for direct review. The state supreme court affirmed the ruling of the trial court, holding that the imposed fines were constitutional under Article II, section 1, that the electors were not granted absolute discretion in casting their votes under Article II or the Twelfth Amendment nor did the fine interfere with a federal function, and that an elector acts under the authority of the State, meaning that no First Amendment right is violated when a state imposes a fine based on an elector’s violation of their pledge.
In Colorado Department of State v. Baca, electors made a similar argument to that of the plaintiffs in Chiafalo v. Washington. The case dated back to the 2016 presidential election when three of Colorado’s presidential electors tried to cast their votes for candidates other than Hillary Clinton, who won the state. Then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams told the electors they must vote for Clinton or be removed. Two of the electors then opted to vote for Clinton, but one-Micheal Baca-would not and instead tried to vote for John Kasich. Baca was then removed and replaced with another elector. The three electors filed suit, claiming Baca’s removal amounted to a deprivation of their rights. The case was eventually appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which determined that the nullification of Baca’s vote and his removal from office were unconstitutional.
Both cases were argued before the Supreme Court on May 13, 2020. The court issued rulings for both cases on July 6, 2020, that upheld the constitutionality of penalties for faithless electors. In Chiafalo v. Washington, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, holding that a state may enforce an elector’s pledge to support their party’s nominee and the state voters’ choice for president. In Colorado Department of State v. Baca, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision in an 8-0 per curiam decision for the reasons outlined in Chiafalo v. Washington.
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