The Road to 270: The Electoral College Explained

The Road to 270: The Electoral College Explained

The 2016 Presidential Election provides plenty of material for the media, newspapers, and blogs to cover. It’s never a dull moment; from Secretary Hillary Clinton’s email scandal and her “pay-to-play” scheme via the Clinton Foundation, to businessman Donald Trump’s highly coveted tax returns and alleged wandering hands. But, the candidates’ campaign missteps and personal issues are not the only things that complicate this year’s election process. The Electoral College’s process and the road to 270 electoral votes is no easy task for either candidate. It’s not easily understood by voters, as well.

So, let’s review the Electoral College process.

What is the Electoral College Process?


The establishment of the Electoral College process and its requirements were drafted by the founding fathers of America, to elect the president and vice president of the United States, outlined in Article II, Section I of the U.S. Constitution. The process was established as a balance between the selection of electors and the counting of electoral votes by Congress, to elect the president and vice president.

Each presidential nominee selects electors in each state. Naturally, this would be a huge task for each nominee’s campaign to manage during the election. Therefore, the electors are usually chosen by each nominee’s political party, based on the bylaws in its state. The electors cannot be members of Congress, and they are usually political party affiliates and operatives.

How Does It Work?


The Electoral College process begins by selecting electors in each state. There are 535 electors comprised of the total number of U.S. House of Representatives (435) and U.S. senators (100).

Each state is allocated votes based on the number of congressional seats in its delegation plus two senators for each state. For example, the state of New York has 29 electors, which is comprised of one elector for each of the 27 congressional seats in its delegation and an additional two electors for U.S. Senate seats. A slightly larger state like Texas has 38 electoral college votes in its congressional delegation; 36 from the House of Representatives and two U.S. senators.

The 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution enacted a provision to grant three electors to the District of Columbia, bringing the total number of electors in the Electoral College to 538. Each of the 538 electors has one vote each. A presidential nominee needs to attain a majority of 538 electoral votes to win the election, which is 270 electoral votes, or half of the 538 votes plus one.

Candidates aggressively campaign to win voter confidence to become the Commander-in-Chief. However, a drawback to the Electoral College process is that a candidate could win the majority of votes, which is known as the popular vote, but lose the election because they fall short in attaining the required 270 electoral votes.

The Electoral College Map


With each breaking news story in the presidential election, the Electoral College map changes. Currently, there are more than 100 electoral votes that are deemed a toss-up for either candidate to win on election night. While some states are solid blue with Democratic electoral votes or red with Republican electoral votes, 11 swing states are not conclusive. Rather, these states can lean to either blue or red, and they will ultimately decide the next president.

Swing States


Looking back at the 2012 Presidential Election, on October 26, 2012, the electoral map reflected 201 votes for President Obama and 191 votes for Mitt Romney, with 146 electoral votes up for grabs. The illustration below is a snapshot of the race at that time.

2012 Electoral College map (Image: Wikimedia)


Electoral Votes in the Swing States


After the Election


Once the final election results decide the winner, there are a series of legal steps to ratify the will of the people’s choice for president and vice president. Essentially, based on state rules, electors meet in their respective states to cast their votes for the candidate that won the electoral votes. The meeting usually takes place in the state capitol.

A Certificate of Ascertainment (COA) is completed by state officials, and each state has a unique design and format of the document. (To view what your state’s COA looks like click here.)

The COA must include the following information:

  • List of electors
  • Number of votes
  • Signature of the Governor with the state seal affixed to the document

All the COAs are sent to National Archives and Records Administration. They are reviewed by the legal staff of the Office of the Federal Register. In the January following the election, the COAs are counted by Congress and ratification is concluded ahead of the presidential inauguration.

The whole process is lengthy and tedious, but an intricate part of our democracy–and it only happens every four years.

You can build your Electoral College map here, and change it as you see fit, from now until election night. In the meantime, have fun tracking the election and remember to vote on November 8.


This article was written by John Burnett, an Urban Financial Freedom Fighter. John has over 20 years of executive experience at some of the world’s top banks and business information companies. He is an adjunct professor at Hampton University and Metropolitan College of New York. John is a strategic advisor to New York Republican State Committee.