As you may recall from high school days, the President of the United States of America is not elected by a direct popular vote. Rather, it is by an indirect voting process via the Electoral College.

Now, this Electoral College usually raises a lot of questions and concerns among voters. Many have no idea how it really works. Some believe that it makes the people’s vote meaningless, since in the end, it is the electoral votes that determine the true outcome of the election. I recently spoke with a young woman who told me that she was not going to vote this Presidential election because of confusion over the Electoral College. Her concern was that, if the Electoral College’s votes supersede the people’s vote, then her vote really doesn’t matter anyway.

So, let’s clear the confusion and spread some light on this whole Electoral College thing. What is it anyway? Is it made up of real people with real names and faces? Does your vote count? Who actually elects the President? Please read on…..

First, each state has a certain number of electoral votes assigned to it. For example, Ohio has 20 electoral votes. The number of votes that each state has is determined by how many U.S. Representatives and Senators there are within that state. Ohio has 18 U.S. Representatives and 2 Senators. California, which has a much larger population than Ohio, has 53 Representatives and 2 Senators, making up a total of 55 electoral votes. Overall, there are a total of 538 electoral votes (435 Representatives, 100 Senators, and 3 for the District of Columbia).

On Election Day, when the American people vote, it is true that we are not really voting for the President directly, but actually for the electoral votes. So, what does this really mean? Well, months before the election even takes place, each party hand picks its own electors. These electors are generally party activists who are extremely dedicated to their party. In 48 states (all but Maine and Nebraska), the candidate winning the most popular votes gets all of that state’s electoral votes. So, for example, in Ohio, if the majority of the people vote for John McCain on November 4th, the Republican party receives all 20 electoral votes; therefore, those people that the Republican party strategically chose to serve as electors, will be the ones who will cast their vote come mid-December when the electors go to their respective state capitals to submit their ballot.

Although this voting process has received some criticism throughout the years since it inception to the Constitution in 1804, it remains as the most reliable means to democratically elect a President and Vice-President. One of the controversies with the Electoral system is that there is, in fact, a chance that a candidate could win the nation’s popular vote, yet still not receive a majority of the electoral votes to win the election. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the popular vote with 50,999,897, while Republican George W. Bush had 50,456,002 votes; yet it was Gore who still lost the election because Bush had won the 270 electoral votes needed to win.

How does this happen? Is it fair?

Going back to the explanation of how the number of electoral votes are determined by each state, the Electoral College gives proportionate balance and power to every state in the United States. Naturally, the bigger states get more electoral votes than the smaller states, because they have larger populations, and vice-versa. So, for example, Indiana, who has roughly 6 million residents and 11 electoral votes, could potentially have 4 million people vote Democrat and 0 people vote Republican on Election Day. This, of course, would award the Democratic candidate all 11 electoral votes in Indiana. On the other hand, Ohio, who has about 11 million residents and 20 electoral votes, could potentially have only 1 person vote Republican and 0 people vote Democrat, giving the Republican candidate all 20 electoral votes for Ohio. In total, the popular vote for both states would be 4 million for Democrats to 1 for Republicans, yet because Ohio is a larger state than Indiana and has many more electoral votes, the election would be awarded to the Republican. Now, is this unfair? It might seem so if, in fact, my aforementioned example was generally the case, but it is not. Very few times has there ever been an instance where the national popular vote was inconsistent with the majority of electoral votes – and even when it was inconsistent, like with the Gore/Bush election, the popular vote was very, very close.

The bottom line is this….. While the Electoral College may seem a little confusing, and while there may, indeed, be a few wrinkles in the system, trust me when I say it still remains a fairly solid and reliable election process. The important thing is this, the power is still with the people. Don’t let any misgivings toward the Electoral College process discourage you from voting this Election Day. On November 4th, get out and vote. Year 2000 taught Americans a very valuable lesson. Every vote does count. My vote counts. Your vote counts.

UPDATE: After the 2010 census, Ohio lost two congressional seats, going from 18 representatives to 16. Now, Ohio’s electoral votes are a total of 18.