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A Presidential Candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win the general election

When you cast your vote for president, you are deciding which electors will represent your state.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Why does the United States use the Electoral College to pick the president? The Founding Fathers were split. Should Congress choose the president? Or should it be left to the people? The use of electors was the solution.

When you cast your vote for president, you are deciding which electors will represent your state. The number of electors in each state is determined by how many seats in Congress that state has, and that number is based on the state's population. 

So, for example, let’s look at Michigan. Every state has two senators. So right off the bat that’s two electors. Additionally. Michigan has 14 representatives in the House. So the Great Lakes State gets 16 electors. Whichever candidate wins Michigan will get all 16 electoral votes.

“Ultimately, when we go to the polls to vote for the president and vice president when we vote for that ticket, we’re really voting a set of people that have pledged to support that ticket in the electoral college,” says Professor John A. Clark of West Michigan University. “ It really gives the states a role, the people in the states a role, rather than the people in the country. What we saw in 2016 and we’ve seen a couple of times prior, is that sometimes the candidate that wins the popular vote doesn’t always win the electoral vote. People start to ask what is this process? How can this possibly be the case? But it sort of is what it is.”  

There are 538 total electoral votes — 535 for the states and three for the District of Columbia. 48 states are winner-take-all. Maine and Nebraska give two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one for the winner of each congressional district.

A simple majority of 270 electoral votes is needed to win.

If neither candidate gets to 270, the House of Representatives will determine the president. But each state delegation, regardless of the number of electors, must vote as one, so there are only 50 votes up for grabs.  The Senate will determine the vice president with a simple majority vote of all 100 senators.

The popular vote winner has lost the Electoral College in two of the last five elections. This has prompted calls to switch to a popular vote system, but that requires a Constitutional amendment.

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