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Understanding the Electoral College

Everything you ever wanted to know about America’s byzantine system for selecting a president.

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Read when you’ve got time to spare.

This is the first part in Pocket’s guide to the Electoral College. For a roundup of the best arguments for and against the system, as well as possible alternatives, see Debating the Electoral College.

American presidential elections are a strange beast. When Americans go to vote for their preferred presidential candidate in November of election years, they are actually voting for the state electors who have pledged to support that candidate in the Electoral College. Only in December do the 538 members of the Electoral College cast their votes for president, officially deciding who will take the oath of office in January.

Read on to understand how the Electoral College works, its history and evolution, and other quirks of America’s unique system for electing a president.