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America Votes: 1607-2012

The Electoral College


A process, not a place

What is the Electoral College?


The Electoral College is administered by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It is not a place; it is a process that began as part of the original design of the U.S. Constitution. The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote.

The people of the United States vote for the electors who then vote for the President.

The term "electoral college" does not appear in the Constitution. Article II of the Constitution and the 12th Amendment refer to "electors," but not to the "electoral college."

The founders appropriated the concept of electors from the Holy Roman Empire (962 - 1806). Electors were princes who participated in the election of the German king. The term "college" (from the Latin collegium) refers to a body of persons that acts as a unit. The term "electoral college" was first written into Federal law in 1845.

Today a President must win 270 electoral votes, a majority, to become President. If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution provides for Presidential election by the House of Representatives with each state delegation receiving one vote. Twice in our history, the House of Representatives has chosen the President -- Thomas Jefferson's election in 1801 and John Quincy Adams's election in 1825.

Learn more about the Electoral College at: