The Electoral College is the process by which the states and District of Columbia elect the president of the United States. Each state is represented by a number of electors equal to the size of its congressional delegation. There are 538 electors in total. To win the Electoral College, a candidate must receive a majority—at least 270—electoral votes.
In each state, a presidential candidate has a slate of electors that is typically selected by the state party through conventions or a committee vote. When a candidate wins the statewide popular vote in a state, his or her slate of electors is chosen to represent that state in the Electoral College.
The only exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which assign two at-large electors to the statewide winner and one elector to the winner from each congressional district.
This year, electors from each state will separately meet on Dec. 14 to cast their votes for president and vice president. Although there is no constitutional provision or federal law requiring electors to vote in accordance with the election results in their state, electors typically vote for their pledged candidates.
The electors from each state then sign and seal six certificates of the vote. By Dec. 23, these documents must be delivered to the president of the Senate, state secretary of state (two copies), to the archivist of the United States (two copies), and the judge of the U.S. district court in the district where they met.
Congress will count the electoral votes in a joint session and declare a winner—subject to any objections to an individual state’s electoral votes—on Jan. 6.
Fourteen states have provisions permitting the disqualification and replacement of faithless electors whose vote deviates from the state’s popular vote.
In 2016, votes for president and vice president were cast by seven faithless electors: five Democratic and two Republican.