Electoral College: What You Need to Know on Election Day
The Electoral College is comprised of 538 members of the US Congress, who represent the members of their states by formally casting votes in the election of the president and vice president every four years.
Although Electors are expected to cast their ballots for the candidate who won the popular election in their state, there is concern this year that delegates may go rogue and vote for the candidate of their own choosing.
According to the National Archives and Records Administration, "There is no Constitutional provision or Federal law that requires Electors to vote according to the results of the popular vote in their states"; however, it is extremely uncommon for Electors to go against their states' choosing. Some states do require Electors to cast their ballot for the individual who won the popular vote, however, and "faithless Electors," or those who go against the popular vote, may be penalized with fines or lose their seat in Congress. According to the Washington Post, only 157 cases of "faithless Electors" have occurred in American history; the last one occurred in 2004 and "might have been a mistake," according to the Post.
One notable example in which Electors voted against their state's popular vote was in the 1992 presidential election, in which 16 Texas Congressmen voted against the popular vote for President Bush. The Electors in that case were all removed from office and told they couldn't run for office again; however, they eventually
got their jobs back.
All but two states, Maine and Nebraska, have a "winner take all" system, in which the candidate who receives the majority of the popular vote will receive the entire Electoral College votes for that state. In Maine and Nebraska, the Electoral votes will be split between the two candidates (or more, depending on whether third-party candidates are running) based on the percentage of votes each received in the popular vote.
The chance of "Faithless Electors" significantly affecting this election is very small. As the Washington Post explained, "Almost all" examples of faithless electors "voted for either another member of their own party or for a third-party option — not the other major party's presidential or vice-presidential nominee."