What is the electoral college?
Essentially, the electoral college is a form of indirect election. In essence, we the people elect officials to represent our political stances, state by state, who then cast votes on behalf of the state in favor of a candidate for PoTUS.
Each of the 50 states in the US (plus the District of Columbia) receives a number of electoral votes based on population, equal to its representation in congress. Therefore, the larger the state’s population, the larger the number of electoral votes they get. California, for example, casts 55 electoral votes every election, while Alaska casts only three. To be named President, a candidate must receive at least 270 of the 538 possible electoral votes–the total number of which is comprised of the number of members of the House of Representatives (435) and the total number of members of the Senate (100), plus three representatives from the District of Columbia.
When you go to the polls in November, you’ll cast your ballot to elect one person as the next president. Say for sake of example that you’re voting in California and you select Republican nominee Donald Trump. If Trump receives the largest share of the popular vote across the state, all 55 of California’s electoral votes will be cast by the state’s representatives towards Trump.
Exceptions to these rules do exist, however. Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that do not use a winner-take-all electoral system. These states include congressional districts that each received one electoral vote not bound by the state’s popular vote. For example, Maine’s four electoral votes are broken down as such: two votes are bound by the state popular vote, while each of the other two are bound by their respective district’s popular vote. Thus, the state could allocate three of its votes towards Hillary Clinton if she wins the statewide popular vote and one of the two districts, but if Donald Trump received more votes in the second district, he would receive the final electoral vote.
Similarly, state electors do not have to cast their votes for the candidate that received the majority of the popular vote within their state. Though it is possible, it’s a very rare occurrence, as the National Archives and Records Administration indicates it has happened less than 1% of the time.
When you go to cast your vote in November, keep in mind that you’re not necessarily voting for Trump, Clinton, Gary Johnson or any of the other candidates on the ballot, you’re technically voting for their electors. This is the exact reason that, despite receiving more of the popular vote, Al Gore lost the 2000 election to George W. Bush. Remember, every vote counts.