Who Elects the President?

Once the nominees have been selected at the convention, they have one last leg of the campaign: the general election. There are two important components to the general election: the popular vote and the Electoral College.

A state's popular vote is the sum of the votes cast by all of the registered voters in a state on Election Day, which is always the first Tuesday in November. The popular vote determines which party's electors will go to the national Electoral College. For example, when Bill Clinton won the popular vote in California in 1996, California's Democratic slate of electors won the right to go to the Electoral College.

Each state is assigned a certain number of electors based on its population. Big states have more electors than small states. Each of these electors has one electoral vote. Even though the electors were part of a slate put together by a certain political party, they are not required to cast their votes for that party's candidate. That makes it possible (although unlikely) for the Electoral College to elect a president who did not win the majority of popular votes.

To win the election, a candidate must get more than half, or over 270, of the electoral votes.

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