Understanding the electoral college

Posted at 5:26 PM, Nov 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-07 19:26:07-05

You won't find a history of notable alumni, team mascots, or even a football field at this college. That's because the electoral college is a process, not a place.

The college itself it older than the state of Idaho by about 100 years. It was established by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution as a compromise between electing the President by a vote in Congress and electing the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

The U.S. Census tells us the population of each state. With those populations, we determine how many representatives each state requires in our nation's Congress.

To put that into perspective, Idaho has four electoral votes, Oregon has seven, and California has 55. Add those representatives with senators and three electors from the District of Columbia and you get the total number of electors in the electoral college: 538.

On the first Tuesday (following the first Monday) in November, voters will go to the polls and select their pick for President. The buck for who wins the White House doesn't stop there, though.

Citizens wait on the tally of the votes and expect individual electors to cast an electoral-vote representing his or her constituency in the electoral college.

In order to become the President, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes: 270.

If no candidate can make it to that number, the decision moves to the House of Representatives.

This is how independent candidates like Evan McMullin have a shot at the White House.

"If we can block [Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump] both, and get this race to the House of Representatives, which is where it would go if we were able to block them on Nov. 8, then I think we'll win,” McMullin tells 6 on your Side.

If the vote ends up in the House, each state gets one vote that its House delegation must decide on to how to spend. The decision stays there until one candidate receives 26 of the 50 votes.

Even if the electoral college doesn't push the vote to the House, it can still leave some voters scratching their heads.

Remember 2000? George W. Bush lost the popular vote and still became president after winning the electoral college with 271 votes to Al Gore's 266.

But look at it this way, if the U.S. moved strictly to a popular vote system,  about 8 major U.S. cities could elect a President based on population alone. Then, making vote in a state with an entire population less than that of New York or L.A. or Chicago or Houston might really make you question if your vote counts.

The system might not be perfect, but it's the one that's been pretty much working since 1787.