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As of Friday, three days before electors gather in state capitals to elect the next president, President-elect Donald Trump is poised to receive 306 electoral votes to Secretary Clinton’s 232. Many of her supporters point to Clinton’s 2.8 million popular vote lead over Trump, but that number is mostly symbolic.
As “School House Rock” put it back in 2002, “the folks who wrote our Constitution had the idea for this plan. And it’s been used in our elections since our government began.”
Video by YouTube user Kevin Bullock
When the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution in 1788, they decided that the president would be selected by electors appointed by the individual states. The number of electors — and therefore electoral votes — would be equal to the state’s congressional delegation.
For example, Pennsylvania has two U.S. senators and 18 U.S. House members, giving the Keystone State 20 electoral votes.
The Constitution goes on to say that the winner of the presidency is the candidate with a majority of the electoral votes, which — right now — is 270 votes.
That brings us to election night, when Trump won Wisconsin. He had picked up enough states to earn 270 electoral votes, making him the president-elect. But that result does not become official until the 538 electors cast their votes during the third week of December.
So do the electors have to vote according to their states popular vote result? Yes, in 28 states, which have passed state laws requiring it; no in all the others.
On Monday, the electors will meet to cast their votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. If there is a tie or no one receives a majority of the vote, the decision is sent to the U.S. House of Representatives.
But this scenario is incredibly unlikely. The House deciding the election hasn’t happened since the 1800s and has only happened twice ever, with Thomas Jefferson in 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.
But if it did come down to the House, each state would get exactly one vote, and whichever candidates gets a simple majority becomes president. So with a Republican majority in 32 of the Congressional delegations, Trump would likely remain the winner.
Rachel Wellford is a general assignment producer for PBS NewsHour.
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