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The United States Electoral College is the institution that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the voters. Instead, they are elected by “electors” who are chosen by popular vote on a state-by-state basis. Electors are apportioned to each state and the District of Columbia (also known as Washington, D.C.), but not to territorial possessions of the United States. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled, while the Twenty-third Amendment grants the District of Columbia the same number of electors as the least populous state, currently three. In total, there are 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 members of the House of Representatives, 100 senators, and the three additional electors from the District of Columbia.

Electors are almost always pledged to particular presidential and vice presidential candidates, though unpledged electors are possible. Except for the electors in Maine and Nebraska, electors are elected on a “winner-take-all” basis. That is, all electors pledged to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes in a state become electors for that state. Maine and Nebraska use the “congressional district method”, selecting one elector within each congressional district by popular vote and selecting the remaining two electors by a statewide popular vote Although no elector is required by federal law to honor a pledge, there have only been very few occasions when an elector voted contrary to a pledge.The Twelfth Amendment, in specifying how a President and Vice President are elected, requires each elector to cast one vote for President and another vote for Vice President.

The candidate that receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) for the office of President or of Vice President is elected to that office. The Twelfth Amendment provides for what happens if the Electoral College fails to elect a President or Vice President. If no candidate receives a majority for President, then the House of Representatives will select 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.

Critics argue that the Electoral College is inherently undemocratic and gives swing states disproportionate influence in electing the President and Vice President. The Electoral College gives a numeric advantage in the election of the president to the smaller states, as the minimum number of electors for the small states is three compared to one for the election of representatives. On the other hand, the winner-take-all method of voting favors the larger states. On four occasions, most recently in 2000, the Electoral College system has resulted in the election of a candidate who did not receive the most popular votes in the election. A number of constitutional amendments have been proposed seeking to alter the Electoral College or replace it with a direct popular vote.

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