I was starting to explain the process to Joe [on Facebook], but I decided to share it with all of you. You probably already know and heard some of it during the past nomination conventions. Well I’ll make it simple for hard heads like me. You can read on it all day, but you will still come back to this:
The people of the United States elect a president every four years, but not directly. Here’s how it works.
In November of a presidential election year, each state holds an election for president in which all eligible citizens may vote. Citizens vote for a “ticket” of candidates that includes a candidate for president and a candidate for vice president.
The outcome of the vote in each state determines a slate of electors who then, in turn, make the actual choice of president and vice president. Each state has as many electors as it has senators and members of the House of Representatives, for a total of 538. (The District of Columbia gets three electors even though it has no representation in Congress.)
In December, the electors meet in their respective state capitols to cast their ballots for president and vice president. States may or may not require their electors to vote with the popular majority, and they may or may not give all of their electors to the winner of the statewide popular vote. I know it sound confusing, but it’s true.
These ballots are opened, counted, and certified by a joint session of Congress in January.
If no candidate wins a majority of the electoral votes or if the top two candidates are tied, the House of Representatives selects a president from among the two candidates with the most votes. Each state’s delegation has a single vote. The Senate selects a vice president by the same process. (This hasn’t happened since 1876, but it almost happened in 2000.)
What does this mean in practice? It means, as everyone learned or was reminded in 2000, that the candidate who receives the most votes nationwide does not necessarily become president. There is no national election for president, only separate state elections. For a candidate to become president, he or she must win enough state elections to garner a majority of electoral votes. presidential campaigns, therefore, focus on winning states, not on winning a national majority.