What is the Electoral College, and how does it work?

Joe Biden has won the 2020 election with a current total of 279 electoral votes, surpassing the 270 necessary to take the presidency.  In the US election, Americans vote for candidates called "electors" in their state who are supporting the candidate they want to become president - this process is called the Electoral College. The more people who live in a state, the more electors there are for that state. So, California for example, with a population of 38.8 million, has 55 votes - while Delaware, (pop. 936,000), has just three votes. There are currently 538 electors in total, corresponding to the 435 Representatives (congressmen and women) and 100 Senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. The Constitution prohibits any federal official, elected or appointed, from being an elector. The candidate with the most electors wins all the state's electoral college votes and the first candidate to win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes is elected to that office. Follow live 2020 US election results Who can become president? The President of the United States can be a man or a woman of any race or any religion, but they must: be at least 35 years old have been born in the US have lived in the US for at least 14 years The rules also state that one person can only be in the job for a maximum of eight years. (The only exception to this was Franklin D Roosevelt, who was elected for a special third term at the height of World War Two.) The two presidential candidates in the 2020 election were Donald Trump, who represents the Republican Party, and Democrat Joe Biden, who was the Vice President under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017.  What is the Electoral College? The Electoral College chooses the president of the United States. When an American citizen casts their vote, they are not directly choosing a presidential candidate. Instead, they are choosing an official, who will represent them in the "college". The word college translates to a large group of people (the elected officials) who have the job of choosing the president, and this role is carried out a few weeks after the results of the election day.  Why is there an Electoral College? The nation's founders established the Electoral College to ensure the entire country had a more equal say in choosing a national president. In a time when the states were more autonomous and the federal government didn't have as much power as it does today, the framers wanted to offset the chance that a single populous state or region would choose a "favourite son" candidate who would almost exclusively represent the contender's home state and at the expense of other, smaller parts of the country. How are the Electoral College votes distributed? What happens if the Electoral College fails to elect a president or vice president? Each elector is required to cast one vote for the president and another vote for vice president.   If no candidate receives a majority for president then the House of Representatives selects the president, with each state delegation (instead of each representative) having only one vote. If no candidate receives a majority for vice president, then the Senate will select the vice president, with each senator having one vote. How many times has this happened? On five occasions the Electoral College system has resulted in the election of a candidate who did not receive the most popular votes in the election: 1800, 1824, 1876, 2000, and, most famously, and recently in 2016, when the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton claimed 2.1pc more of the popular vote than Donald Trump, who, with 304 votes compared to 227, won the Electoral victory, and, therefore, his place in the White House.  How does the Electoral College work? In almost every state, the candidate to gain the highest number of votes will win the electoral vote for that state. This individual will then, therefore, receive this number of seats in the Electoral College. Then, the elected figures from each of the 50 states gather, and vote for the president. The structure of the Electoral College means some states, known as the Swing States’ carry more weight and overrule the popular vote. The power of these swing states was seen in the results of the 2016 election, when Mrs Clinton claimed more of the popular vote than Mr Trump, however she failed to win over the swing states, and consequently lost the Electoral College vote, and with it, the election.  Donald Trump arriving at his inauguration in January 2017 Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America What did the Electoral Collection map look like in 2016? Electoral College votes With the Electoral College holding such a grip over the outcome of this presidential battle, both Mr Trump and Mr Biden were, above all, fighting for seats in the College. With 538 electoral votes up for grabs, the presidential candidate needs 270 to steal the majority, and therefore, win the Ele

What is the Electoral College, and how does it work?

Joe Biden has won the 2020 election with a current total of 279 electoral votes, surpassing the 270 necessary to take the presidency. 

In the US election, Americans vote for candidates called "electors" in their state who are supporting the candidate they want to become president - this process is called the Electoral College.

The more people who live in a state, the more electors there are for that state. So, California for example, with a population of 38.8 million, has 55 votes - while Delaware, (pop. 936,000), has just three votes.

There are currently 538 electors in total, corresponding to the 435 Representatives (congressmen and women) and 100 Senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. The Constitution prohibits any federal official, elected or appointed, from being an elector.

The candidate with the most electors wins all the state's electoral college votes and the first candidate to win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes is elected to that office.

Follow live 2020 US election results

Who can become president?

The President of the United States can be a man or a woman of any race or any religion, but they must:

  • be at least 35 years old
  • have been born in the US
  • have lived in the US for at least 14 years

The rules also state that one person can only be in the job for a maximum of eight years. (The only exception to this was Franklin D Roosevelt, who was elected for a special third term at the height of World War Two.)

The two presidential candidates in the 2020 election were Donald Trump, who represents the Republican Party, and Democrat Joe Biden, who was the Vice President under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017. 

What is the Electoral College?

The Electoral College chooses the president of the United States. When an American citizen casts their vote, they are not directly choosing a presidential candidate. Instead, they are choosing an official, who will represent them in the "college". The word college translates to a large group of people (the elected officials) who have the job of choosing the president, and this role is carried out a few weeks after the results of the election day. 

Why is there an Electoral College?

The nation's founders established the Electoral College to ensure the entire country had a more equal say in choosing a national president.

In a time when the states were more autonomous and the federal government didn't have as much power as it does today, the framers wanted to offset the chance that a single populous state or region would choose a "favourite son" candidate who would almost exclusively represent the contender's home state and at the expense of other, smaller parts of the country.

How are the Electoral College votes distributed?

What happens if the Electoral College fails to elect a president or vice president?

Each elector is required to cast one vote for the president and another vote for vice president.  

If no candidate receives a majority for president then the House of Representatives selects the president, with each state delegation (instead of each representative) having only one vote.

If no candidate receives a majority for vice president, then the Senate will select the vice president, with each senator having one vote.

How many times has this happened?

On five occasions the Electoral College system has resulted in the election of a candidate who did not receive the most popular votes in the election:

1800, 1824, 1876, 2000, and, most famously, and recently in 2016, when the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton claimed 2.1pc more of the popular vote than Donald Trump, who, with 304 votes compared to 227, won the Electoral victory, and, therefore, his place in the White House. 

How does the Electoral College work?

In almost every state, the candidate to gain the highest number of votes will win the electoral vote for that state. This individual will then, therefore, receive this number of seats in the Electoral College. Then, the elected figures from each of the 50 states gather, and vote for the president.

The structure of the Electoral College means some states, known as the Swing States’ carry more weight and overrule the popular vote. The power of these swing states was seen in the results of the 2016 election, when Mrs Clinton claimed more of the popular vote than Mr Trump, however she failed to win over the swing states, and consequently lost the Electoral College vote, and with it, the election. 

Donald Trump arriving at his inauguration in January 2017 Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

What did the Electoral Collection map look like in 2016?

Electoral College votes

With the Electoral College holding such a grip over the outcome of this presidential battle, both Mr Trump and Mr Biden were, above all, fighting for seats in the College. With 538 electoral votes up for grabs, the presidential candidate needs 270 to steal the majority, and therefore, win the Electoral College vote overall. 

You can track these results on The Telegraph live stream here

Electoral College States 

Among the 50 states, there are nine swing states, or battleground states, which have the ability to transform the election results. 

These are the nine swing states and the results called so far: 

  • Arizona – Biden  wins
  • Michigan – Biden wins
  • Minnesota – Biden wins
  • Wisconsin - Biden wins
  • Florida – Trump wins
  • Texas – Trump wins
  • Georgia – 99 per cent reported, Biden slight lead (0.2 per cent). Final results could take several days, and there will be a recount in late November due to the small margin between candidates
  • North Carolina – 95 per cent reported, Trump lead (1.4 per cent), mail-in ballots postmarked by November 3 are accepted until November 12
  • Pennsylvania – Biden wins
  • Nevada Biden wins

What makes these states so powerful? It comes down to the "winner takes all" system in all states (except Maine and Nebraska), the winning party claims all electoral votes across the entire state. Therefore, for example, if the majority of people vote for the Democrats in Florida, the Democrat party will take all 29 electoral votes.

In the 2020 election, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin were all crucial to the overall outcome, as they were states which only marginally voted for Mr Trump in 2016, and therefore assisted him in his electoral college victory.