Civics 101: How we elect our president with the Electoral College, Congress, and you



On Nov. 3, many Americans will be glued to their television or computer screens, watching the “results” of this year’s presidential election. They may be disappointed — and not just because of the outcome. The results could take weeks to be known this year.

Despite admonitions that the “final” results could take weeks to be known due to an overwhelming request for mail-in and absentee ballots, many Americans still do not fully understand the process of declaring a winner in the U.S. presidential election. 

The process to elect the president involves voting for electors, the Electoral College, and Congress.

The Senate, House of Representatives, and the National Archives all play an essential role in confirming the winner in a process that dates back to America’s adoption of the Constitution in 1788. 

The Founders designed this four-month process as a check and balance between the people and the government’s role in the election of its top leader.

Voters are voting for the president, but by voting for a candidate, they are actually are choosing a set of electors who will cast the actual vote.

After the 50 states and the District of Columbia have counted their in-person, mail-in, and provisional ballots, each state governor provides a list of electors. This list, called the Certificate of Ascertainment, is submitted to the head of the National Archives. 

The electors have been pre-selected by the political parties. Alaska has three electors for Republicans, and three for Democrats. California, on the other hand, has 55 electors.

The electors arrive at the state Capitol and cast their votes for president and vice president according to the will of the electorate, occurring on the first Monday and second Wednesday of December. If the Democrat nominee has won in Alaska, for instance, the Democrat electors will go to Juneau.

Donald Trump/Mike Pence are heavily favored to win Alaska and will get all three electoral votes. Alaska’s Republican electors are: John Binkley, Judy Eledge, and Randy Ruedrich.

Each elector finalizes a Certificate of Vote, which is mailed to the U.S. Senate, National Archives, and state officials. Once completed, the Electoral College has satisfied its duties. 

Across the country, there are 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Learn more at

Some states have laws that require electors to reflect the will of the majority of the voters in that state. On July 6, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that states have the power to require presidential electors to vote the will of the people.

The final step in the process happens on Jan. 6, 2021, when Congress convenes to count the electoral votes – officially certifying a winner. While ceremonial, this final step allows for potential objections to the Electoral College votes. There have only been two occurrences of this happening, 1969 and 2005.

This year’s presidential election promises to be one that bucks many conventional norms. Yet, it’s important to note the United States has elected every president using this exact method for 232 years. 


  1. The system has worked well for 244 years and while many seem bent on destroying this system it will prevail again this year and hopefully for many more year far into the future. God Bless America.

  2. And, in battleground States that are mostly Republican and controlled by both houses of Congress, if they get a hint of shenanigans with voter fraud those Republican held Congress can decide not to go with the traditional method and vote their own electoral votes.

  3. I’m a little foggy on what they were thinking when the founders established the electoral college, but I’m suspicious it had to do with keeping the peons in their place.
    After all, if you were white, rich, and owned property (even if you weren’t rich), then you were a people. If you weren’t, you weren’t.

    • The electoral college was established to prevent large population centers from being the only voice in electing the president. Currently, the president could be chosen solely on the votes in 3 states if we did away with the electoral college.

    • My understanding of it is that the states formed the federal government and each state is carrying their vote for who is elected, based on how their residents voted. Personally, I’m a little conflicted if there electoral votes from a state should all go to the top candidate elected or if the electoral votes should be divided by percentage, seeing as states like California have tons of electoral votes due to population and some areas of their state might vote red while others vote blue. I also believe the difference between popular vote and electoral college vote is due to our country being a democratic republic and not a democracy.

  4. Alaska’s school children should at the very least be introduced to the electoral college during their freshman year in highschool, not college.

Comments are closed.