How Do Elections Work?

Edited by Steven Spear, Jr.

Written by Kerrol Hermit


With this upcoming election, it’ll be my first time voting. However, despite how excited and eager I am to exercise my civil responsibility, I feel that it is important to understand the process of choosing a new President. Elections are more than what is depicted in the media, and the person with the most votes does not always win. I wanted to really understand how a President is selected, so I did my research and wanted to share it with you:

The original plan—according to Article 2 of the Constitution—was that each state would choose its electors. When gathered together, the electors form the Electoral College. The states would be allocated a number of electors based on population. These electors would gather after the national elections and cast two votes to determine who became the President. The person with a simple majority of votes became President, and the person with the second most votes became Vice President. If no person received a majority in the Electoral College, the House of Representatives choose the President and the Senate chose the Vice President.

Problems with the original plan: In 1796, John Adams was elected President, and Thomas Jefferson was elected Vice President. You might be thinking: “These are great choices,” but it could not have been worse. These men belonged to two different political parties that agreed on few issues. Adams was with the Federalist Party, and Jefferson was with the Democratic-Republican Party. Four years later in 1800, the Electoral College’s vote for President was tied between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Even though Jefferson was clearly favored, the House of Representative had to choose the President.

The confusion in these elections prompted officials to change the system to reform the Electoral College. The solution became the 12th Amendment. Candidates were allowed to run together (one presidential candidate and once vice presidential candidate), and electors had to distinguish their choices by casting one ballot for President and one for Vice President.

The most recent election controversy was Bush/Gore election in 2000. Florida is in two time zones. Major networks began calling the Election for Gore when the precincts in the Eastern Time Zone had closed, but the precincts in the Central Time Zone were still open. This confusion delayed the announcement of who won Florida’s electors, and everyone quickly realized that Florida would determine the winner of the election. After two recounts and interventions from the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, Bush won Florida’s electoral votes by an incredibly narrow margin and gained a majority in the Electoral College.

There are two valid concerns with the current method of electing a President. The Electoral College—

  1. Greatly diminishes the chances of victory for a third-party candidate. Excluding Maine and Nebraska, every state awards all of its electors to the candidate that wins a simple majority of that state’s vote. If a third-party candidate wins fifteen percent of the vote in each state, that candidate will win no votes in the Electoral College. This creates the illusion that third-party candidates have no support and voters are less likely to support them in future elections.
  2. Discourages voter participation. The votes for the candidates who do not win a state are unrepresented in the Electoral College. Political parties realize this and spend little to no time attempting to increase turnout in “safe states.” Voters realize this and think, “My vote doesn’t matter,” and stay home on Election Day.

The current attempt at reform is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. The agreement says that the states will award their electoral votes by the popular vote. For example, Florida has twenty-nine electoral votes. If Gary Johnson wins ten percent of the vote, he will receive 2.9 electoral votes. Ten states (representing 165 electoral votes) have agreed to the Compact, and it becomes law when a number of states (representing 270 electoral votes) have agreed.

The Electoral College may need reform, but it is not a pressing issue. The national popular vote is a good indicator of who will win the electoral vote. Only 3 times (out of 57 elections) has the Electoral College produced a winner that did not win the national popular vote. I am a proponent of empowering individuals, and I believe that the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact does just that.



  1. Shirley Spear · ·

    I did not know the history of the Electoral College. Very interesting info thanks.


  2. Interesting. Too bad third- party candidates don’t get a fair shake.

    Liked by 1 person

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