How the Swing States Work

Electoral College
Each state's number of electors for the 2004 and 2008 elections
Each state's number of electors for the 2004 and 2008 elections

It seems like electing the president should be a pretty simple process. Everybody votes, and whoever gets the most votes becomes president, right? That method, called the popular vote, was one of several that the founding fathers of the United States considered when they made up the rules for presidential elections more than 200 years ago. They didn't pick the popular vote method, however. They went with an indirect system called the Electoral College.

It's easier to understand the Electoral College if you remember that it isn't really a national election -- it's a whole bunch of separate state elections. Each state gets a certain number of electors:

  • one for each senator (which means two, because there are always two senators)
  • one for each representative (which depends on the state's population as determined by the census)

In almost all cases (see "Winner Doesn't Always Take All" below), whichever candidate wins a given state wins all of that state's electoral votes, and it takes a majority of the electoral votes to win the overall election.

For more detailed information on the Electoral College system in the United States, see How the Electoral College Works.