Presidential elections are the most important elections in the United States. If you are 18 years of age or older and a United States citizen, you have the right to vote to elect a slate of electors. You select these electors by popular vote. These electors, in turn, cast their ballots for president in the electoral vote. Electoral votes are known to align with the overall popular votes, but that is not always the case.
How Many Electoral Votes Does Virginia Have?
There are a total of 538 electoral votes in the country, divided amongst each of the 50 states based on the Census. The state of Virginia has 13 electoral votes allocated to it. This means Virginia has 11 congressional districts.
If you are unfamiliar with the process of the US presidential elections, you might be wondering what an electoral vote is and how electoral votes are assigned to each state.
In this article, we will attempt to explain the somewhat convoluted process of voting.
What is an Electoral Vote?
An electoral vote is a vote cast by a member of the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a group of presidential electors who are appointed by each state and the District of Columbia in accordance with its state legislature. The electors from each state are chosen every four years to appoint a president and vice president. The founders believed that corruption would be subdued by apportioning, limiting, and confining the electors within their respective states, and fair elections would perpetuate.
The citizens of the country choose the electors, and there are limitations to who can be nominated as an elector. A person appointed as an elector should not be a member of the legislature of the United States or someone who holds any office of profit or trust under the United States. The electors cast two votes by ballot, and at least one of the votes should not be for an inhabitant of the same state as them.
Initially, the Electoral College only appointed the president, and the candidate with the second most numbers of votes was automatically chosen as the vice president. This worked fine until 1800 when Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr amassed equal electoral votes. Jefferson ultimately took office as president after the House broke the tie.
The 12th Amendment (ratified in 1804) ensured that electors vote for president and vice president. It also introduced a tie-breaking system that designates the Senate (the upper chamber of the United States Congress) to break a tie on vice presidential electoral votes and the House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the United States Congress) to break a tie on presidential electoral votes.
Out of the 538 electoral votes, a majority of 270 electoral votes is required to win the presidential election. If no candidate accrues 270 electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President.
How are Electoral Votes Allocated?
The number of electors equals the number of the state’s congressional delegation (Senators + Representatives). The 23rd Amendment granted electoral representation to the District of Columbia, so it received three electoral votes. Three electoral votes are also the least amount of votes a state can have since each state has two Senators and at least one congressional district.
There are a total of 538 electoral votes in the country since there are 100 Senators, 435 Representatives, and three electoral votes for the District of Columbia. These votes are allocated to each state based on its Census. Using a state’s finalized Census population and “The Method of Equal Proportions,” new congressional districts are formed every Census. The total number of congressional districts remains unchanged, so with each Census, states gain or lose congressional districts and electoral votes.
The results of 2010 were used to assign congressional districts for 2012, 2016, and 2020 presidential elections. The results of the 2020 Census will be effective for the 2024 and subsequent elections until the next Census.
What is a Popular Vote?
The popular vote, in a presidential election, refers to the first phase of the elections, where the votes of the citizens determine the candidates who will, in turn, formally appoint the president and the vice president. The popular vote, in this instance, is a part of the overall indirect election or hierarchical voting.
The popular vote is more prevalent and carries more weight in a direct election, where the public directly casts ballots for the candidate or political party they wish to see elected. Direct elections use a variety of electoral systems. In the United States, the House of Representatives has been elected using first-past-the-post-voting since 1789, and the Senate began directly electing members in 1914.
Criticisms of the United States Electoral College
Many have described the United States presidential elections as inherently undemocratic. The hierarchical voting system discourages voter participation. The presence of faithless electors is also a subject of legal controversy. A faithless elector is an elector who does not vote for whom the elector had pledged to vote or abstains from voting.
In January, smaller states like Iowa and New Hampshire hold their caucuses and state primaries. Media attention and campaign activity are elevated during these times, so the smaller states’ voters have a major impact on the presidential races. Conversely, large states like California hold their state primaries in June and have little to no effect on the selection of presidential candidates despite having the most electoral votes.
Additionally, congressional districts are proportional to a state’s Census while the Senate seats are not. Therefore, smaller states are over-represented in the Electoral College, and larger states like California end up under-represented.
Many have defended the system saying that it prevents candidates from winning an election by focusing only on high-population urban centers and forces them to seek support from the country’s rural areas as well. However, there have been instances where a candidate with the most number of popular votes has lost to a candidate with the majority of electoral votes.
While the system is rooted in controversy, the obvious power it gives to the smaller, less-populous states is undeniable. State legislatures of such states would oppose the elimination of the Electoral College.
Not only that, any changes to the system can only be made through a Constitutional amendment. Making amendments to the constitution is a lengthy and complex process. As long as the system benefits a political party like the Republicans, changing the constitution will remain difficult as two-thirds of Congress is required to make amendments.
So, even in light of its obvious shortcomings, the Electoral College is not going to be abolished anytime soon.
After understanding the electoral votes in Virginia, let’s take a step back and understand the overall US election process.