Why don't people understand the electoral college?

The Electoral College

Even for Americans, the system is difficult to understand. U.S. citizens over the age of 18 can elect the next President of the United States on November 8, 2016. However, the vote of the American people does not directly determine the outcome of the presidential election.

An institution called "Electorial College" - in German, for example: Electoral College - has the final say on who will hold the highest office in the state. The college consists of 538 electors.

Each of the 50 US states is assigned a portion of the electorate, depending on how strongly the state is represented in the two chambers of Congress. In the House of Representatives, each state is represented proportionally to its population. There are two senators for each state in the Senate.

For example, New York State has 27 MPs and two Senators. Based on a set formula, the Republicans and Democrats of New York State can nominate 29 electors for the presidential election.

"These are usually loyal party supporters, they are given a symbolic award," says George Edwards III, an expert on the US electoral system at Texas A&M University.

Indirect democracy

When Americans elect their president, they are actually choosing which of the two political parties will send their electors to the college.

The votes of the electors are given to the Congress

At the end of December, more than a month after the citizens cast their vote, the electors meet in the capitals of the respective states for the actual presidential election. Congress receives the votes of electors from all 50 states and Washington D.C. in January and counts them out.

The candidate who receives at least 270 electoral votes becomes president. Usually, the results of the elections of the citizens coincide with that of the electors. But that doesn't always happen, in such a case the result of the electoral college counts.

Three times in the history of the United States, for example, a candidate became president even though he had fewer votes than the opponent. The last time it happened was in 2000. The Democratic candidate Al Gore got 500,000 votes more than his Republican opponent George W. Bush.

Still, Bush got 271 electoral votes and became president.

Voter dissatisfaction

The Electoral Collge is the result of an agreement between the men who drafted the US Constitution, which went into effect in 1788. Back then, democracy was a rare form of government with which there was little experience. Some of the constitutional writers feared that direct election of the president could lead to mob rule.

The US has changed a lot over the centuries. The Electoral College still exists, though the majority of Americans would prefer to get rid of it. According to a Gallup poll, more than 60 percent of citizens would prefer to vote for the president directly.

Although he received fewer votes than his opponent Al Gore, George W. Bush became president

Electoral College is a winner-takes-all system in 48 states. In California, for example, the majority reliably vote for the Democrats in the presidential election. This means that all of the electoral votes go to the democratic candidate. The minority that elected the Republicans is not represented by the electorate.

That means California is a safe bet for the Democrats and the Republicans don't even challenge them there. Same goes for Texas, just the other way around: Republicans will almost certainly win here.

View of 7 states

The focus of the election campaign is therefore on the so-called swing states. In these states, both parties and therefore both candidates have the chance to get a majority of the votes. According to the news website Politico, there are seven swing states in this election: Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and New Hampshire.

Most Americans would like to change the system, but reform is difficult. The abolition of the Electoral College associated with a constitutional amendment would require a two-thirds majority in Congress and a three-quarters majority in the states.