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A British Person Tries To Explain The Electoral College

It turns out that democracy is a lie!

Hello lovely Americans. Greetings from London. How is it going? Are you enjoying having less ridiculous politics than us this week?

Daily Mail

So are we, ha ha ha! HA! Ha.

Anyway, we thought we'd chip in from across the pond for Turn Up To Vote week, to try and take on a big challenge: explaining the electoral college.

This is a map showing the results of the 2012 election. What are those numbers? Why are they looking at me?

Let's find out together.

So, as you may have heard, the Electoral College is a system that means when you *think* you're voting for, say, Leslie Knope for President of the United States of America, you're technically not voting for Leslie Knope for President of the United States of America.

Instead, you're voting for an elector, which is a person who's been chosen to cast the official, real, grown-up vote for president, unlike your childish, unworthy one.

OK, but, like, what? Who gets to be an elector, and can we trust them? Don't worry, we've googled this for you!

BBC / Via

Electors are chosen by their political parties and are chosen in different ways in different states – they can be nominated at state party conventions or elected in party committees, for example. An elector CAN'T be a senator or representative, cause that would be weird.

Also, according to the National Archives of your fair country: "As a historical matter, the 14th Amendment provides that state officials who have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the United States or given aid and comfort to its enemies are disqualified from serving as Electors."

So, uh, if you can't be an elector, you know who you are!

Anyway, after the election in November, there's a meeting of the electors in each state, which happens on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December.

Warner Bros

That's when they actually cast their votes for president and vice president.

It's a very special day that all electors look forward to.

Warner Bros

They get up to all kinds of wacky elector antics at their meetings.

Then on the 6th of January after the meeting of the electors, the votes are counted in a joint session of Congress. The electors' votes get carried into Congress in these sweet mahogany boxes.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Just look at them go.

This is the bit that finally makes the result of the election formal.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Here's a joint session of Congress tallying the Electoral College votes to certify Obama as the winner of the 2008 election. Thanks, Obama.

Right. So. Here's a weird thing: There actually isn't a law that means the electors *have* to vote the way they've been pledged – and sometimes they don't! Those who don't are called "faithless electors".


But, more than 99% of electors have voted the way they've been pledged, and none of the shitty electors who went rogue have ever actually affected a presidential election's outcome.

Basically faithless electors are messy bitches who live for drama.

Twitter: @joanneprada

That, or like, the candidate they were supposed to vote for died or something.

OK, but how do they figure out how many electors each state gets?

Nsphotostudio / Getty Images

It's the same as the number of representatives (which varies by population) and senators (which is always two no matter how small and crap your state is) for each state.

California has the most (55), and Vermont, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, and Washington D.C. (NOT EVEN A REAL STATE) only have three.

In every state except Nebraska and Maine, electors are awarded in a winner-takes-all system based on the state's popular vote.

mountaintidetech / Via Flickr: mountaintide / Creative Commons

Maine! Where lobsters come from and anything is possible, especially if what you're into is the somewhat proportional divvying up of electors.

In any case, don't feel bad for the states that only have three electors, because their relatively low population means that there are about 200,000 people per elector in Wyoming, but around 700,000 people per elector in Florida, for example.

That's not to say Florida isn't very special and important, though, as we all learned in 2000.

A candidate needs 270 electors to win the presidency. As of Wednesday, FiveThirtyEight was predicting Hilary Clinton would win 353 electors in November, and Donald Trump would win 184.

Per @FiveThirtyEight, present Electoral College outcome would be: @HillaryClinton 353 @RealDonaldTrump 184

But there's still four months to go, and anything can happen! Ha! Hahaha, ha.

To see different ways for a candidate to get to 270 electors, you can play around with your own electoral college map on We made one ourselves depicting a resounding Trump victory:

☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ ☺️ 😓

At this point you may be wondering: Why?

Stephanie Zieber / Getty Images

Why not choose the president with a popular vote?

Universal Pictures

Everyone loves popular things.

Well, the Electoral College system was a sort of compromise struck by the founding fathers as to whether Congress or ~the people~ should get to pick the president. / BuzzFeed

So when they couldn't decide on one or the other, they just said: "Why not neither!"

Four times in U.S. history, a presidential candidate has won the popular vote, but lost the election due to the Electoral College system.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images

The losers were Andrew Jackson (defeated by John Quincy Adams in 1824), Samuel Tilden (defeated by Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876), Grover Cleveland (defeated by Benjamin Harrison in 1888), and Al Gore (defeated by the one and only George W. Bush in 2000).

Sucks to be those guys.

But also, this system means that certain states are far more influential than others by virtue of being "battleground states" that can plausibly swing either way in each election.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images / BuzzFeed

They *nearly* changed the system in 1969 when the House of Representatives passed an amendment to directly elect the president and vice president, but the Senate was like, "nah".

It's pretty hard to change things in the U.S. because of your fancy written-down constitution, isn't it?

To sum up: When you cast a ballot for a presidential candidate, you're actually voting for a shadowy elector who may or may not stab you in the back, some Americans' votes count more than others, sometimes you get a president who didn't win the most votes, and it would be pretty hard to change anything.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

BUT ALSO, you guys get stickers when you vote! We don't get that in Britain!

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

You don't know how good you have it.

And, whether or not you think the Electoral College is a fair system in 2016, at least you can be happy that you have some really great candidates this year.

DSK / AFP / Getty Images /

Really excited to see how this one turns out, guys!

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