Sunday, November 4, 2012

Confusing U.S. Presidential Election

U.S. Presidential election is on November 6. It is very confusing how a person is elected U.S. President. It is not by popular vote. It is how many votes a person gets in “electoral college vote”.

What is an Electoral College vote?

There are 538 Electoral College votes. A candidate has to win 270 votes to win the election. Each state is allotted a number of Electoral College votes depending on the population. It is a winner takes all system*. If a candidate wins popular vote in a particular state, he/she takes all the Electoral College votes of that state. For example, California has 55 and Montana has 3 Electoral College votes. If a candidate wins California’s popular vote, he/she takes all 55 (even if the candidate won the popular vote by one vote only). Therefore, both candidates will concentrate in California and not in Montana.

USA has 50 states. Very very big country by area. It is so huge it has 6 different time zones. Theoretically, if someone puts in all efforts in only 12 states and win all these 12 states, he/she can become President. He/She can ignore the other 38 states. Here are the numbers (states and electoral college votes).

California 55
Texas 38
Florida 29
New York 29
Illinois 20
Pennsylvania 20
Ohio 18
Georgia 16
Michigan 16
Arizona 11
Indiana 11
Oregon 7
Total 270

Is there anyone who won the election but did not win the popular vote? Yes. Here they are:

John Quincy Adams in 1824
Rutherford Hayes in 1874
Benjamin Harrison in 1888
George W. Bush in 2000

Look for a surprise here. Total number of electoral college votes are 538. What if each candidate gets 279 votes and it is a draw? There is a solution in the US Constitution.

The President will be elected by the US House of Representatives.
The Vice President will be elected by the US Senate.

House majority is Republican and so Romney winner.
Senate majority is Democrat and so Biden winner.

That would be fun. Will see what happens on November 6.

PS: * The states of Maine and Nebraska do not have winner take all system. They have “proportional representation” system.


  1. :)

    Make me some minister, I would like to bring change...

  2. Wow...some interesting statistics!

    Here in India also we are all gearing up for elections and for a change today's headlines read:

    75% voting in HP's elections :)

    That was some welcome change!!

  3. Thanks for your comments Ekta. You are made a minister without portfolio.

  4. Thanks for your comments Me. I am glad you liked this post.

  5. The popular vote should decide the president...not the electoral college.

    Al Gore

  6. Thanks for your comments Al. Your loss to George W. Bush in 2000 still pains me.

  7. Are there separate elections for state governments (like chief minister, mla here)? Or, are the state governments also elected during the elections for the central govt?

    Even in India the election by non-popular govt. can happen. The winning party requires the maximum number of seats, but the party that lost may still have a larger number(%) of people voting for it!

    Destination Infinity

  8. Thanks for your comments Rajesh. Election for all offices (from ward councilors to President) are held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. There are no Chief Ministers in states. States have elected Governors. They do the job of an Indian state’s Chief Minister. Yes, state government elections are also held on the same day.

    Just FYI. To contest an election, the party does not give “ticket” to a candidate. The people decide who will contest on behalf of which party. That election is called “primary election”. Tomorrow’s election is called “general election”.

  9. Informative & Interesting. I am waiting for tomorrow like the rest of the world..
    Btw, how is the number for electoral college in each state decided? Population based?

  10. Sorry yes you mentioned it is population.. :) ignore my question.

  11. Thanks for your comments lostworld. Yup, it is a close race. Very difficult (I did not say impossible) to defeat a sitting President.

  12. These things go way over my head..

  13. Thanks for your comments Renu. Don't worry. Everything will come in place eventually.

  14. Actual the news headlines gave some vague ideas only. Now somewhat clear.Thank you for thisinformation.

  15. Nice post. Now that Obama has won it will be business as usual.

  16. Thanks for your comments Pattu. Yup, he won and from now business as usual.