NEW YORK - Each state chooses electors (their number is set according to the number of representatives it sends to Congress) sworn to vote for the candidate who won the most votes. The electors will meet in January 2021 to choose the next president.
In most states, the winner of the popular vote takes all of the electors, meaning that if Candidate A earns just one more vote than Candidate B, Candidate A wins all the state’s electors.
But Maine and Nebraska do it differently. There, two electors are chosen by statewide vote, and one is chosen from each congressional district.
While losing the national popular vote, a candidate can rack up electors by winning small states, or by winning by small margins in large states. That is what happened with Donald Trump in 2016. He lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton but won a majority of the electoral college votes.
Election Day is only one point in the process of the Electoral College, which decides who wins a U.S. presidential race.
After the polls close, states begin to count and certify popular vote results according to their respective rules. Federal law then requires governors to prepare, “as soon as practicable,” official certificates to report the popular vote in the state. These documents, often signed by governors, must carry the seal of the state. One copy is sent to the archivist of the United States.
Electoral College electors in each state don’t vote until Dec. 14. The electors’ votes typically align with the popular vote in each state. But not all states require the votes cast by electors to mirror the popular vote. Certificates recording the electoral vote results in each state must be received by the president of the Senate and the archivist no later than Dec. 23.
The official results of the electoral votes are sent to the newly elected Congress, which is set to meet in a joint session on Jan. 6, 2021, and announce the results.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.