Define the electoral college

Examine its foundation in the constitution

Determine how many electors their state is appointed in Electoral College

Explain the process electors go through after the general presidential election in November

Step 1:

What do you know about the electoral college?

What role does it play in presidential elections?

Why do you think the founders provided for elector?

Article II, Section 1. Clause One:

What It Says

“The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years, and, together with the Vice President, chosen for the same Term, be elected, as follows:”

What it means:

The Constitution establishes that the President of the United States has the power to run the executive branch of the government. This section, later modified by the Twelfth Amendment, establishes the Electoral College (the process by which the President and Vice President are elected).

This section says that the President and Vice President are elected at the same time and serve the same four-year term. Originally, there was no limit to the number of times a President could run for reelection. George Washington set the tradition of serving for no more than two terms. After Franklin Roosevelt was elected for four terms, the ratifica­tion of the Twenty-second Amendment limited Presidents to no more than two four-year terms. A Vice President who assumes the Presidency and serves more than two years of the remaining term is limited to one additional term.

Step 2. Read the following section of the Constitution that provides for electors. Discuss the method of determining how many electors each state is appointed and who is exempt from being selected as an elector.

Step 3. Read the following excerpt from the Constitution, and discuss the process of electing the president and vice president. Explain that this portion of the Constitution was later modified by the 12th Amendment.

Article II, Section 1. Clause Two:

What It Says:

“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.

[The Electors shall meet in their respective States, and vote by Ballot for two Persons, of whom one at least shall not be an Inhabitant of the same State with themselves. And they shall make a List of all the Persons voted for, and of the Number of Votes for each; which List they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the Seat of the Government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate. The President of the Senate shall, in the Presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted. The Person having the greatest Number of Votes shall be the President, if such Number be a Majority of the whole Number of Electors appointed; and if there be more than one who have such Majority, and have an equal Number of Votes, then the House of Representatives shall immediately chuse by Ballot one of them for President; and if no Person have a Majority, then from the five highest on the List the said House shall in like Manner chuse the President. But in chusing the President, the Votes shall be taken by States, the Representation from each State having one Vote; A quorum for this Purpose shall consist of a Member or Members from two-thirds of the States, and a Majority of all the States shall be necessary to a Choice. In every Case, after the Choice of the President, the Person having the greatest Number of Votes of the Electors shall be the Vice President. But if there should remain two or more who have equal Votes, the Senate shall chuse from them by Ballot the Vice President.]”

What it means:

Rather than being elected directly by the people, the President is elected by members of the Electoral College. It is not really a college but a group of people who are elected in each of the states. To keep elections national, rather than to favor any single state, the electors have to choose one candidate for President or Vice President who is not from their own states. The electors then vote for the Presidential candidate who won the majority of the popular vote in their states. (In a few states, laws specify that electors will cast their ballots according to the percentage of votes that each candidate received.) The number of electors from a state is equal to the number of senators and representatives from that state. Neither members of Congress nor other federal officials can serve as electors. The Electoral College gives more weight to the smaller states, rather than allowing the more populous states to control who becomes President, since all states have two senators, regardless of the size of their population. Should no one receive a majority in the Electoral Col­lege, then the House of Representatives chooses the President and the Senate chooses the Vice President.

Presidential elections are held on the Tuesday that follows the first Monday in November. After the people cast their votes, the electors meet in their respective states to ballot on the Monday following the second Wednesday in December. The electoral ballots are then counted at a joint session of Congress, held on January 6.


Article II, Section 1 Clause Three:

The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States

View the accompanying video of Historian Don Ritchie discussing the foundation of our voting system.

Video Clip: Foundation of Our Voting System (3:47)

Historian Don Ritchie discusses the foundation of our voting system at the United States Senate for Constitution Day.

Ask students to describe the process of electing a president and vice president in the two examples that were given in the video clip and explain how it is different from elections today.

Step 4. Read the 12th Amendment and discuss the change in the process of electing the president and vice president; then view the following video of Historian Don Ritchie discussing the 12th Amendment and the elections of 1800 and 1824. Discuss the two elections and how they affected the voting process.

Amendment 12 – Choosing the President, Vice-President. Ratified 6/15/1804.

What it says:

“The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate;

The person having the greatest Number of votes for President shall be the President if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person has such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in the case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President.

The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person has a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.”

What it means:

Approved by Congress on December 9, 1803, and ratified by the states on June 15, 1804, the Twelfth Amendment modifies the way the Electoral College chooses the president and vice president. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, which established the Electoral College, provided that each state appoint electors equal to the total number of House and Senate members in their state and that the electors shall vote for two persons.

The presidential candidate who received the most electoral votes won the presidency; the runner-up became the vice president. In 1796, this meant that the president and the vice president were from different parties and had different political views, making governance more difficult. The adoption of Amendment XII solved this problem by allowing each party to nominate their team for president and vice president.

The inhabitant clause of the Twelfth Amendment also suggests strongly that the president and vice president should not be from the same state. Although the provision does not directly disqualify a vice president who is from the same state as the president, the provision disqualifies the electors from that state from voting for both offices.

Before the 2000 election, both presidential candidate George W. Bush and vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney lived in and voted in Texas. To avoid problems with the inhabitant clause, Cheney registered to vote in Wyoming, where he previously lived.

The Twelfth Amendment also specifies how the president and vice president are to be selected should neither candidate obtain the votes of a majority of the electors: the House of Representatives selects the new president from the top three candidates. This is a slight variation from the original provision, which allowed the choice from among the top five candidates. However, the vote within the House is by state, not by representative. This gives equal weight to all states— the smaller, less populated states as well as the larger, more populated ones— and makes it more likely that the ultimate winner may not be the candidate who obtains the majority of the popular vote.

Lastly, this amendment extends the eligibility requirements to become president (the candidate must be a natural-born citizen, must be at least thirty-five years old, and must have been a resident of the United States for fourteen years) to the vice president since no person who is constitutionally ineligible to be president can be vice president.

Video Clip: 12th Amendment and the Electoral College (2:42)

Historian Don Ritchie discusses the 12th Amendment and the elections of 1800 and 1824.

Step 5. How does this apply to current elections? You can do this by accessing  Congressional Chronicle website and clicking on the Members tab. Once the map has populated, you can click on your state, and your members of Congress will populate. Students can determine the total number of electors who will be representing their state in the next election by adding together the number of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Step 6. View the following video clip and discuss the following questions.

Video Clip: The Role of Electors (3:02)

Michael White of the National Archives and Records Administration discussed the role of electors in the election process.


Step 7. View the following clips. During this session, the votes from each state are presented and verified. Explain the process.

Video Clip: Electoral Ballot Arrival (1:12)

The electoral ballots were seen being taken to the House Chamber to be counted, followed by the senators.

Video Clip: Counting of Electoral College Votes (4:19)

The House and Senate convened for a joint session of Congress to verify certificates and count electoral college votes from each state for president and vice president of the United States.

Step 8. Read the 20th Amendment of the Constitution that provides for the start date of the terms for elected officials. View the videos of the swearing-in of the President and Vice President of the United States, and indicate the justices who are swearing in each elected official.

Amendment 20 – Presidential, Congressional Terms. Ratified 1/23/1933.

What it says:

“1. The terms of the President and Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified, and the terms of their successors shall then begin.”

What it means:

March 4 was initially chosen as the date a new President, Vice President, and Congress took office because there needed to be time to travel to the capital and for the new representatives and senators to settle their affairs at home before sitting as a Congress. As transportation and communications improved, this meant that the departing Congress and President remained in office for an unnecessarily long time. By moving the beginning of the new term from March 4 to January 20 (and in the case of Congress to January 3) proponents of the Twentieth Amendment hoped to put an end to the “lame duck” syndrome. Lame ducks, incumbents who had been defeated or had not stood for reelection, were perceived to be able to accomplish little of value, and Congress and these Presidents were less likely to support each other’s initiatives.

This shortened interval between the election and the convening of a new Congress on January 3 and the Presidential inauguration on January 20 allows the outgoing President time to consider the outgoing Congress’s legislation for signature or veto while enabling the government to be passed swiftly to the new administration.

Video Clip: President Donald Trump Sworn In (1:20)

A clip of Donald J. Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

Video Clip: Vice President Mike Pence Sworn In (1:52)

A clip of Mike Pence being sworn in as vice president of the United States.

Video Clip: Alexander Hamilton on the Electoral Process (0:39)

Senate Historian Don Ritchie discusses Alexander Hamilton’s views of the Electoral College system.

How does the electrol college supports democracy? Write the ways it support. 

Links to use (only these links)












Use only the provided links.

In what ways does the Electoral College support democracy? In what ways is it undemocratic?

What are two ways the Electoral College system makes people feel like their votes don’t count?

Do you think the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is a good idea? Why or why not?

What other ideas can you think of for reforming the Electoral College system? 

The Electoral College and Democratic Equality

National Popular Vote: Circumventing the United States Constitution