You may be discouraged to vote knowing that your vote doesn’t directly decide who the president is, but it’s still important to vote because the popular vote is an election of the electors for the electoral college. If that doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a deep dive into what the electoral college is.
The 2016 election with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was extremely unique because Clinton got 2.9 million more votes than Trump, but Trump won because he got more votes in the electoral college. However, this isn’t the first time this has happened. A presidential candidate winning the electoral college, but losing the popular vote has happened five other times in history from 1876 with Rutherford B. Hayes all the way to the 2016 election with Donald Trump according to Time.
When a citizen goes to vote for the president, they are voting for the representatives in the electoral college. When voters cast their ballots, they will be voting in the popular vote rather than directly voting for the presidential candidates directly. The goal of the popular vote is to elect specific people, called the “electors” into the electoral college. From there, electors are approved by the political party in each state. For example, let’s say you vote for Joe Biden on election day and Biden wins the popular vote in your state. Electors from the electoral college that the democratic party has chosen will then cast votes for Biden in your state. The electoral college electors can go rogue and vote for the opposite party of their state, but this has never affected the final result of an election.
Most states have a winner-takes-all system for the electoral college. USA Today defines this as “48 states give all of their electors to the candidate who wins a majority or plurality of the state popular vote, regardless of how wide or narrow the victory. This freezes out even a large minority from gaining any representation in the Electoral College, and drastically magnifies the significance of a handful of votes in arbitrary swing states.” Washington state uses the winner-takes-all system and gets a total of 12 electoral college votes.
Although the electoral college can be complicated, know that you need to vote. The 2000 Bush vs. Gore election came down to a small number of votes, and in 2016, Trump won states most experts thought were safe for Clinton. You never know where it will come down to the wire. The electoral college can sometimes make your vote not feel like it matters, but it does because any state and any vote can decide the future of our country. You are making an impact on who wins the presidency even if it isn’t direct. Get your ballot and be sure to vote.