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How many Electoral Votes are needed to be elected president?

What is the Electoral College and what is its role in electing the president of the United States?

ATLANTA — As a nation, the United States of America is, by definition, a federal constitutional republic -- one that combines a central or overall governmental body with regional states governed directly by the people as enumerated by a written constitutional document. 

The president of the United States is elected every four years by way of a process established in the United States Constitution -- the Electoral College. 

When citizens cast their votes for president and vice president, they are, in actuality, voting for electors, who, in turn, make the final selection as part of a body called the Electoral College. 

In Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution, a requirement was established for each state legislature to determine how those electors were to be chosen. In addition, the same clause disqualified any person who holds a federal office from being a member of the Electoral College.

"Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector."

Modifications to the Electoral College were made in the 12th Amendment, which does two things: it requires each elector to vote separately for the presidential and vice-presidential candidate, and it suggests that the presidential and vice-presidential nominee should be from different states.

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An additional modification was made in the 23rd Amendment, which provided electors for the District of Columbia, allowing its citizens to participate in presidential elections.

The number of current members of the Electoral College -- 538 -- is determined by the total number of US Senators, members of the US House of Representatives, plus three additional members -- representing Washington, DC. 

As a result, the number of Electoral College members -- or Electoral Votes -- each state has is determined by the size of its own congressional delegation. The number of a state's Electoral Votes may be changed following the Census every ten years, in accordance to any change in the size of that state's congressional delegation.

For example, in 2020, Georgia has 16 Electoral Votes -- this is based on the 14 members of US House, plus the two US Senators in the Peach State's delegation.

To win the presidency, a candidate must receive one vote more than half of the Electoral Votes available -- or 270.

Following Election Day, by federal law (3 U.S.C. § 5), all state recounts and court contests over presidential election results must be resolved by Dec. 8. This is in order to meet the legally-mandated Meeting of the Electors. This year, that meeting must occur on Dec.14.

On that date, the electors will meet in each state and cast their ballots for president and vice president. 

Following this action, the ballots must be sent to the President of the United States Senate -- who, at this point, is Vice President Mike Pence. Pence must receive these from each of the states by Dec. 23.

On Jan. 6, 2021, the United States Congress meets in joint session for the formal counting of the Electoral Votes.

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In the majority of the states and the District of Columbia, a winner-take-all system is used -- which means that when a candidate has won the popular vote in that state, the state's electors will follow suit and cast their votes for that candidate for president. 

In two states -- Nebraska and Maine -- the Electoral Votes are split. One Electoral Vote is awarded to the candidate who wins the popular vote in each congressional district, while the remaining two votes go to the candidate winning the statewide popular vote.

Complaints have emerged over the years but have become far more vocal in the years since the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election regarding the Electoral College and whether or not it effectively represents the will and voice of the American people.

To abolish the Electoral College and shift the method of electing the president of the United States to a popular vote would require an amendment to the United States Constitution

Such an amendment may be made through one of two methods:

  • A constitutional amendment proposed by either house of Congress and passed by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate would then have to be ratified by three-fourths -- or 38 -- of the 50 states.
  • A constitutional convention may be called for by two-thirds -- or 33 of the state legislatures. 

An important note: None of the amendments to the Constitution have ever been proposed by a Constitutional Convention.

In either event, the president would not have a hand in amending the Constitution, since the resolution involved does not go to the White House for a presidential signature or approval. 

The resolution would go to each of the states, and once 38 of their legislatures indicate their approval, the Constitution would be considered to have been amended.