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VERIFY: Why we vote, despite the Electoral College's role in determining the president

Lois A. asked: "Why do we still have people vote if the Electoral College" plays such a large role in determining the outcome of the election?

The VERIFY team has received a lot of questions regarding the electoral college, and the voting system across the United States.

Viewer Lois A. wrote to the team and asked: “If the Electoral College determines the President, why do we even vote? Why is [the] popular vote so important?”

THE QUESTION:


Why do we still have people vote if the Electoral College ultimately determines the outcome of the election anyway?

THE ANSWER: 


Our votes decide who is in the electoral college, and the electoral college votes to decide who wins the election. Put simply, you’re voting for a representative (elector) who will vote for the candidate you want to win.

WHAT WE FOUND:


A recent Supreme Court ruling summary explains the idea well. 

“When Americans cast ballots for presidential candidates, their votes actually go toward selecting members of the Electoral College.”

As detailed in a Congressional Research Service report from October, when you cast your ballot for the candidates of a party on November 3rd, you’re actually voting for “the electors committed to support those candidates.”

During the campaign, both parties put together a list of elector nominees in each state. These can basically be anyone who is not currently serving in a federal office. “In practice, nominees tend to be a mixture of state and local elected officials, part activists, celebrities, and ordinary citizens,” the CRS report explains.

When citizens vote on Nov. 3rd or during early voting, the votes are really being counted to determine if the Democrat or Republican nominees are officially chosen as electors.

If you vote for Trump/Pence, that’s really a vote for the Republican electors in your state. Similarly, a vote for Biden/Harris is really a vote for the Democrat electors in your state.

Once the vote is counted, electors are chosen off the results. U.S. Code gives states until December 8th to lock in electors. In 48 States, the electors are chosen in a “winner-take-all” system. If one candidate gets 51% of the vote, they get all the electors of that state. Maine and Nebraska are the two exceptions.

Once all this is done, electors officially meet and cast a vote for candidates of their party to be President and Vice President. This vote will take place on December 14th this year. More than a month after the general vote. 

So to answer Lois' question: Our votes decide who is in the Electoral College, and the Electoral College votes to decide who wins the election.