The American Voting System, Put Simply

By Editor in Chief Cameron Broome

Hillary Clinton received more votes from US citizens than Donald Trump. Yet looking at the result, and Trump appears to have won with a landslide victory. What? How? Why? Don’t worry, we were confused too. Here is the US Presidential Voting System Put Simply.

Basic facts

  • Voting takes place every 4 years
  • First Tuesday (after the first Monday) in November
  • vote for their Congressmen and women separately from the president
  • System designed to avoid manipulation by tyrant to get power
  • Also wanted to ensure smaller states were not neglected and given a voice

How it works

  • US is divided into states
  • Each state is assigned a number of “electors”
  • Electors – directly vote for President and Vice-President on behalf of citizens
  • Number of electors depends on population size within the state
  • For example: populous California = 55 electors
  • Alternatively, Delaware only has 3 electors due to its small population size
  • Citizens within states cast their votes
  • Candidate that receives most votes in a state receives all elector votes
  • Couple of states share out votes proportionally (Maine and Nebraska) but most elector votes are allocated on a “winner takes all” basis
  • Very rare that elector votes for different candidate to winner of state (never been an occasion where this has taken place and affected overall result)
  • To become president, a candidate needs to have the majority of electors
  • There were 538 electors in the 2016 election
  • Hence, a president needed 270 electors
  • If no-one gets a majority, congress gets to pick


  • Trump received 306 elector votes compared to Clinton who received 232 votes
  • Clinton popular vote total = 61,201,031 popular votes
  • Trump popular vote total = 61,201,031 popular votes

What this means in practice

  • All votes do not matter equally
  • Political geography influences the result
  • Clinton with had a higher popular vote share than Trump
  • However, Trump received substantially more elector votes

Further reading


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