Today’s presidential election will come down to just 270 votes.
The U.S. uses an electoral college system to officially elect its president, which means electors from each state cast votes based on their state’s popular vote outcome.
There are 538 electoral college votes divided among the country’s 50 states. The number is based on 435 U.S. senators, 100 U.S. Congress representatives and three electors from Washington, D.C. The number of electors from each state is population-based, which means states with more residents receive more votes.
A candidate must receive at least the majority of the 538 votes, or 270, to win the presidential election.
“The electoral college dates back to the founding of the country,” said David Yepsen, the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “In those days, many of the founders and opinion leaders didn’t trust the masses and decided groups of the best citizens should be the ones who gathered to make choices for president and vice president. Back then, most voters never saw or heard of a presidential candidate. It’s an antiquated concept today, but one that will be impossible to get rid of.”
Illinois has 20 electoral college votes in this election, which is down from the previous election’s 21. It is the smallest number of votes the state has had since 1868, when it had 16.
California has the most electoral college votes this election with 55. Texas has 38, and Florida and New York have 29, while Pennsylvania has 20.
Barack Obama won 62 percent of Illinois’ votes In 2008’s presidential election and claimed 21 electoral college votes from the state.
“It is all about winning states whose number of electors reflects their relative population size,” said John Hamman, a political science professor. “The popular vote matters on a state-by-state basis. Turnout by state is a factor here.”
Yepsen said the system is flawed because it allows a candidate to win the popular vote but not the electoral college.
“This comes up every four years,” Yepsen said. “After a while, the sentiment for change goes away. The country has far larger problems to resolve, and smaller states don’t want to get rid of the electoral college. If we went to a direct democracy, smaller states and rural regions would feel overlooked and left out. The electoral college assures rural states will have a voice.”
Yepsen said it would be difficult to change the Constitution to get rid of the electoral college system. However, he said modifications could make it more effective.
“One change that might be doable is for states to allocate their electoral votes by congressional district instead of winner-take-all. Instead of battleground states, we would have battleground congressional districts that could go either way,” he said. “It’s likely most states would have a few of them. The senate electors would be allocated to the statewide winner. That would more accurately reflect the sentiment of each state and encourage candidates to campaign in a variety of districts rather than a few battleground states.”
Sean Malone, a freshman from Chicago studying biology, said he likes the U.S. voting system for the most part.
“I think most states should be decided solely on popular vote,” he said. “The lower density states like Wyoming, though, should have someone help vote for them.”
Desiree Young, a junior from Champaign studying journalism, said she doesn’t like the electoral college system.
“I don’t think we need it,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s just too complicated and confusing.”
However, she said it is still important for Americans to vote.
“You have a voice, and that’s what America is based off of,” she said. “You should be able to vote.”