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How Are Electoral College Electors Chosen?

October 21, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Despite the important role of the Electoral College, the Constitution doesn’t say much about the electors themselves.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 argued over a lot of things, but one of their biggest debates was over how the United States should elect its president.

Some among the Founding Fathers believed that direct nationwide election by the people would be the most democratic method. Others argued that a straightforward popular vote was unfair, as it would give too much power to larger, more populous states. They also worried that public opinion could be too easily manipulated, and feared direct election might lead to a tyrannical leader determined to grab absolute power for himself.

The result of this struggle was the Electoral College, the system by which the American people vote not for president and vice president, but for a smaller group of people, known as electors. These electors then cast their votes directly for president and vice president, at a meeting held several weeks after the general election.

There are 538 total electors, including one for each U.S. senator and representative and three electors representing the District of Columbia, and presidential candidates need a majority of 270 votes to win the White House. Most of the time—but not always—the winner of the Electoral College is also the winner of the popular vote.

READ MORE: What Is the Electoral College and Why Was It Created?

How Electors Are Chosen

Elector Melba McDow, along with other electors, takes the oath of office as the Electoral College meets at the Texas Capitol in Austin, 2008

Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution states that electors can’t be a member of Congress, or hold federal office, but left it up to individual states to figure out everything else. According to the 14th Amendment, ratified after the Civil War, electors also can’t be anyone who has “engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or given aid or comfort to its enemies.”

The Constitution gave each state a number of electors equal to the combined total of representatives and senators who represent that state in the U.S. Congress. State legislatures are responsible for choosing electors, but how they do this varies from state to state. Until the mid-1800s, it was common for many state legislatures to simply appoint electors, while other states …read more


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