What is the Electoral College? What is the popular vote? And how is the US president elected?

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Nov 7, 2023 at 01:21 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Hi babes, this week, while I deal with the existential crisis of whether to give into the autumn nail trend or stick to the pink glitter print that’s been glued to my fingers for some time now, I’m also going to try and tackle one of US politics’ greatest mysteries: what is the Electoral College, and how is it different from the popular vote? Oh, and why do we need to make these things so fricking complicated?

Welcome back to Explained By a Blonde, US elections edition. I know politics might not be the sexiest topic, but when you have an American political situation on the brink of collapse, it’s important to stay in the know. Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather focus my attention on other silly goofy Americanisms than spend another second thinking about the tangerine man who’s currently sat in court running his mouth.

With the 2024 US Presidential elections quite literally around the corner, it’s time we go full Christiane Amanpour on this. As those of us binged Gilmore Girls to feel something will know, Amanpour was and continues to be the it girl of CNN journalism.

So, first things first: how is a president elected in the United States? Well, in the simplest terms, a politician is elected president by winning a majority of the electoral votes. Now, there is also the popular vote. However, despite its seemingly obvious name, the popular vote doesn’t really mean shit. Let me explain.

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College is a process, not a location or building. When I first heard the phrase, I basically pictured the sorority house in Scream Queens, but in reality, there’s no such place. Actually, it’s a process which involves 538 electors, all of whom then cast a vote for both president and vice president.

Now, this is the confusing bit. Each state in the US appoints electors that are equal in number to its congressional delegation, ie its representatives and senators. While each state has only two senators, the amount of representatives each state has is determined by population. So, the more populated the state, the more representation it’ll have in the Electoral College.

For example: Florida has 30 votes, whereas Alaska only has 3. Let’s move on though, because the thought of Ron DeSantisland having that many votes is honestly giving me a migraine.

A presidential candidate needs to secure a majority of 270 votes in order to win the election. Now, while this might seem straightforward enough—the people vote, their state electors cast their votes, and then whichever candidate collects the most votes wins—in reality, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

What is the popular vote?

So, the popular vote refers to the mass number of every vote from each individual across the US. The candidate who gets the most votes nationwide is said to have won the popular vote. However, as we saw back in 2016 with Hilary Clinton, even if you snatch the popular vote, if you don’t have those Electoral College votes, you’re a goner, babes.

Discrepancies between the Electoral College vote and the popular vote are more common than you’d think. And, when you think about it, there are so many things horrifically outdated about the current system. Let’s assess them, shall we?

First off, certain smaller battleground states, or swing states as they’re often referred to, hold key value in securing elections, which means that politicians will try and introduce certain voting laws in hopes of manipulating the end results.

Next, there’s the monumental role that racism has played in the building of the Electoral College. With Southern states having a particularly large stake in maintaining the slave system, Republican politicians skewed the Electoral College in their favour, transferring disproportionate power to those few red states—a manipulation that still exists today and continues to penalise Black voters in the South.

Despite the Electoral College being criticised heavily by, like, everyone on the planet, there seems to be zero movement in actually getting rid of the thing once and for all. My only logical conclusion is we basically need to lock the entire US cabinet in a room with Julia Fox and Ziwe. In girls we trust.

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