The President and Vice President of the United States are not elected by popular vote but by 538 Electors, also called the Electoral College. To win, the next President needs more than 269 Electoral Votes.
On November 8, 2016 people in their home states and D.C. cast their votes effectively for the party that is behind their presidential candidate.
On December 19, previously appointed Electors by the winning party in each state, cast their ballots in their respective state capitals and D.C. For the whole United States of America, there are five hundred thirty-eight Electors. Maine and Nebraska are two exceptions to the winner-takes-all rule, as they also choose Electors based on the results in their congressional districts.
Finally on January 6, 2017 the Congress meets in joint session to count the electoral votes. Only then the next President and Vice President of the United States of America are officially known.
The number 538 is the sum of 435 + 100 + 3: 435 for the House of Representatives, each representing approximately 700,000 people. States with a small population like Wyoming or Vermont get at least one Representative. 100 for the two Senate seats of every of the 50 states. By consequence each state gets at least 3 Electors. In addition 3 Electors are given to the District of Columbia.
Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers, wrote in 1788 about the Electoral College:
"I venture somewhat further, and hesitate not to affirm, that if the manner of it be not perfect, it is at least excellent. It unites in an eminent degree all the advantages, the union of which was to be wished for."
As the popular vote is more common today, the Electoral College seems quirky and antiquated. However, in times of great change and upheavel, the Electoral College could play an important role as the last safeguard against populism and demagoguery.
November 9, 2016 update: After the concession speech of Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton and speeches of President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, it would be highly surprising if the Electoral College would play any further important role. We can expect that Electors will cast their ballot according to the current result.
The two maps show:
- a geographical map showing the color of the winning party by state. For Maine and Nebraska we added the congressional districts and twice two circles for the two Senate seats per state.
- a proportional hexagon map , each hexagon representing one of the 538 electoral votes, arranged, so that the geography is still discernible