How the US Electoral College works

The next American president will be decided through a counting process that is likely to continue through this week and, in turn, likely to end up in the courts. The outcome of the US presidential election hung in the balance on Wednesday as several states continued to count their ballots, including some of the most competitive battlegrounds where the tally could take days to complete. Democratic nominee Joe Biden has a slight edge over Republican President Donald Trump with 227 to 213 electoral votes. That leaves 98 electoral votes to be allocated and possible paths to victory for both candidates. The winner needs to secure 270 votes.
This election may result in the worst of all worlds — a weak and disunited The States of America. No matter who wins, Mr Trump or Mr Biden will serve for only four years in the White House, meaning they will be lame ducks quite early into their terms. The Democrats will control the lower house but the Senate will be evenly divided. The judiciary is firmly on the Right. All this means the next US president will be hemmed in by other arms of government, especially when bipartisanship is all but dead. Mr Trump has signalled his second term will be about settling scores more than realising a national vision. The US will be a house divided with a leader seen as illegitimate by half his people, no matter who wins.
The United States uses a system called the Electoral College to elect presidents. Under this method, the candidate with the most votes nationwide doesn’t necessarily win the election, which was the case in 2016 with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and in 2000 with George W. Bush and Al Gore. Each state is given a number of electors based on the size of its congressional delegation. The candidate who wins a majority of electors becomes president.
Each state is allotted one elector for each US representative and senator it has. Washington, DC doesn’t have representation in Congress, but it receives three electors, the same number as the least populous state.  In most states, electors are nominated at party conventions and their names are given to the state’s election official. Electors’ names do not usually appear on the ballot, but when Americans in each state vote for their choice of president, they are technically casting their ballot for the slate of electors representing the ticket.
Most states are winner-take-all for presidential elections. Whichever party’s slate of electors receives the most votes gets all of the electoral votes. There are two exceptions: Maine and Nebraska both give two at-large delegates to whoever wins the state overall, and then one to the winner of each individual congressional district.
 A candidate needs to win a majority of 538 electoral votes — 270 — to be elected president. If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the Senate chooses the vice president and the House chooses the president. But the House decision doesn’t work like normal: Each state’s delegation gets to cast a single vote, meaning that large states have the same weight as small states, similar to the Senate.
In December, in a largely ceremonial gesture, the electors cast ballots for president and vice president and are expected to follow the vote of their state. On rare occasions, some electors have decided to cast their votes for a different candidate. These are known as “faithless electors,” and the behaviour is protected by the Constitution. But a recent ruling of the Supreme Court stated that a state is allowed to require presidential electors to support the winner of its popular vote and may punish or replace those who don’t.  The votes are counted at a joint session of Congress, and the president is officially elected and later inaugurated on Jan. 20.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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