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How the U.S. Presidential Elections work

 A quick guide to the process of electing the President of the United States of America.

How the U.S. Presidential Elections work has been following the major political events as part of our 2008 You Bet™ Presidential Elections betting odds watch. Over 1 million people are expected to bet on the U.S. Presidential Elections all over the world, and one of the many questions we have been emailed is "How do the Presidential Elections actually work?"

 Below we have compiled a quick and (hopefully) simple guide to how the elections work. It should help many foreign readers of our newspaper, as well as young Americans who are eligible to vote for President in 2008 and would like to know what they are getting themselves into.

 First, it is important to know that the United States presidential election is indirect. That means that it is not the people who chose the next President, rather than the United States Electoral College. This fact may surprise many readers, especially from Europe, where if 1 million people vote for a President, that candidate would receive 1 million votes. It is not like that in America. In the United States the total number of votes is set at 538 since 1964, because there are that many Electoral College members (electors).

Number of electors for each of the 50 states as of 2006 Each of the states is allocated as many electors as the number of Representatives and Senators in the United States Congress that state has.

On the left is the map with the number of electors per state as of 2006.

 When the people vote, although they cast their vote for one of the presidential candidates, their vote is not counted towards the total vote count for President and Vice President, rather they are actually choosing Electors from their state. In turn, the Presidential Electors cast their vote, called "electoral vote", for the President and the Vice President. Confusing? You bet. Here is an example - let's say that 1 million voters in the State of Michigan come out and all of them vote for John Smith. Because Michigan has 17 electoral votes (see map above), John Smith would get a total of 17 votes for the Presidential Election, rather than 1 million votes.

 This means that a Presidential candidate can have the majority of the popular vote (the votes cast by the people), but that doesn't mean he has won the Elections. Here is another example: let's say that total of 2 million people vote in South and North Dakota for candidate A, and this is the majority, and that 1 million people vote in Georgia for candidate B, and this is the majority for that state, the candidate B wins the Presidential Elections, as North and South Dakota have combined 6 electoral votes and Georgia has 15 electoral votes.

 Keep in mind that the Presidential Electors could vote for anyone they choose to, but with rare exceptions they vote for the designated candidates. The Congress remains the last judge of the electors, but there has not been a dispute since 1877.

 Basically, when you vote for President, you don't vote directly, but you "tell" the electors in your state who should they vote for.

 Now, if no candidate for President manages to receive an absolute electoral majority of 270 votes out of the 538 possible, then the House of Representatives goes in session to determine the next President. The House chooses from the three candidates who received the most votes, and each state casts one vote, which is determined by the majority decision of the delegation from that state, i.e. total of 50 votes are cast. If a state delegation were to split evenly, that state would be considered as abstaining. If the House of Representatives also ends up in a tie 25 to 25 votes, then it goes to the United States Senate and the process is the same. And if the Senate also ties, then the current Vice President casts his/her tie-breaking vote.

This is the basic of how the Presidential Election works. Email us with questions and suggestions for future articles at

 Here are a couple of interesting facts about the Presidential Elections:

 The 23rd Amendment states that the District of Columbia (D.C.) can have as many electors as it would if it were a state, but it cannot have more electors than the least populated state. Currently Wyoming is the least populated state and it has 3 electoral votes, thus the District of Columbia is currently allocated only 3 electoral votes.

 The right to vote for President is not given to the citizens by the federal government, but rather by the state or local government. This means, that despite the popular belief, the right to vote for President is not constitutionally protected and individual states do have a right to bar its citizens from voting for President.

Published on 08/10/2007


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