1 October 2000

A Walk-Through on the American Presidential Election Process

Our presidential elections are not "direct" elections. Your vote doesn't go to a given candidate, it goes to show support for a particular candidate's representatives in the "electoral college." So how does this work? Here is a simple breakdown:

1. You vote. Votes are tallied, state by state.

2. The votes count toward members of the electoral college supporting a particular candidate.

3. All of the electoral college members then "vote" for the candidate who got a simple majority of the popular vote in their state. In other words, the candidate who gets 50.1 percent or more of the popular vote in a given state "wins" the entire state's electoral college vote.

5. The candidate who "wins" the most electoral college votes then wins the election.

This is why, among other things, we're often told that a candidate "can't" win without the support of states like California, Florida, and New York. If the votes were cast according to popular support - matching the way in which the voters actually cast their ballots - the results might not be any different (the candidate with a simple majority of the popular vote ultimately wins anyway) in outcome, but would appear very different when we read about them later. Landslides would be a less-common feature.

Still need more information? The federal government operates several sites with information on this topic, including:

http://www.fec.gov/pages/ecworks.htm and