Presidential Elections: Six Things You Might Not Have Known


A 2016 U.S. Presidential Ballot from Wisconsin. (Image by Corey Taratuta via Wikimedia Commons)
A 2016 U.S. Presidential Ballot from Wisconsin. (Image by Corey Taratuta via Wikimedia Commons)

Today is Election Day in the United States.

Here are some things you may not have known about presidential elections.

First off, voters aren’t really voting for candidates, they’re voting for electors. Those electors will assemble in each of the state capitals in December and submit their votes for president. The electors are usually pledged to vote for the candidate that received the most votes, but on occasion “faithless electors” have strayed.

Second, it’s not a national election. It’s 50 state elections and one in the District of Columbia. States are free to choose how they select their electors. Two states, Nebraska and Maine, divide their electoral votes by congressional district. The other 48 states and D.C., have a winner-takes-all system. Until the late 1800s it was common for state legislatures to select a slate of electors, leaving the voters only indirectly involved. South Carolina held its first popular presidential vote in 1868 after it was readmitted to the Union following the Civil War.

The popular vote doesn’t matter, just ask Al Gore, who had more popular votes than George W. Bush in 2000, but lost to Bush who had more electoral votes. The number that does matter is 270. That’s the number of electoral votes a candidate must receive to be elected. There are a total of 538 electoral votes, and 50 percent plus one vote is required to win.

Now, 538 might sound like a pretty random number, but it’s not really. Each state gets one electoral vote for each member of its congressional delegation. That means California, which has 53 representatives and two senators, gets 55 electoral votes. Wyoming, which has one representative and two senators, gets three votes. There are 435 total representatives and 100 senators for a total of 535. The other three votes come from the District of Columbia, which gets electoral votes despite not having full representation in the House and Senate.

What about Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. commonwealths and territories, you ask? They’re out of luck. Their options are 1. Become a state and gain electors via Article II of the Constitution, or 2. Gain electors via a Constitutional amendment as the District of Columbia did in 1961.

If no candidate receives 270 electoral votes, a contingent election is held in the House of Representatives. The three candidates who received the most electoral votes would be eligible. Each state delegation gets one vote, and the winning candidate must get 26 votes to win. The District of Columbia would not get a vote in that situation. The Senate elects the vice president, with each senator casting a vote and a simple majority needed to win.

Today’s  first polls close at 6 p.m. Eastern time in parts of Indiana and Kentucky. The last polls close in Hawaii at 1 a.m. Eastern, which is 8 p.m. local time.


Today is unofficially X-Ray Day, National Cappuccino Day, and National Dunce Day.

It’s the birthday of “Gone With the Wind” writer Margaret Mitchell, who was born in 1900; the inventor of the microchip Jack Kilby, who was born in 1923; and journalist Morley Safer, who was born in 1931.

Because our topic doesn’t have a specific year associated with it, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1972, the top song in the U.S. was “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash.

The No. 1 movie was “Lady Sings the Blues,” while the novel “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.

Weekly question

The current record holder for longest suspension bridge in the world is located in what country?



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