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Learn About the Electoral College

Today, U.S. citizens vote for president and other offices. But did you know the president is not chosen by a nationwide popular vote?

After today’s general election ballots are counted, electors in the Electoral College system will cast their votes for U.S. president in December. When their votes are counted in January, the presidential candidate who gets more than half (270 votes) wins the election.

Each state has a certain number of electors, based on each state’s total number of members of Congress. For example, a large state like California has 54 electoral votes, while Rhode Island has only four. All together, there are 538 electoral votes.

The founding fathers established the Electoral College in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the president by a vote in Congress and election of the president by a popular vote of qualified citizens.

Learn more about the Electoral College, including who the electors are, and key dates for the 2012 presidential election.

See if you can predict who will win the presidential election, and check out a children’s guide to the electoral college process.

Make sure you know the location and hours of your polling place, voter ID requirements, and rights regarding provisional ballots. You can also find more information to make sure you’re ready to vote in the elections.

Can You Vote Online?

No, online voting is not currently allowed in the United States. Some uniformed and overseas citizens can vote by fax or e-mail if their state accepts absentee ballots in these formats.

Uniformed Service Members and Other Overseas Citizens

The Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) of 1986 allows you to vote absentee in local, state and federal elections if you are a U.S. citizen, 18 years or older, and an active duty member of the Armed Forces, Merchant Marine, Public Health Service, NOAA, a family member of the above, or a U.S. citizen residing outside the United States.

Many states allow absentee voters that meet UOCAVA requirements to submit their ballot by fax or as a scan attached to an e-mail.

More information about each state’s absentee voting procedures are available from the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Residents Displaced by Hurricane Sandy

The state of New Jersey recently extended coverage of UOCAVA (PDF) to residents to who have been displaced by Hurricane Sandy. People who meet the requirements may be able to vote by fax or e-mail.

Challenges With Online Voting

The 2002 Help America Vote Act established the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to help administer federal elections, including certifying voting systems. The Act also directs the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to research and make recommendations to the EAC regarding voting security and privacy.

NIST has done research on remote voting technologies and they have concluded that current Internet Voting Systems are not as secure as in person voting. Problems such as malware on personal computers and the lack of electronic voter authentication would reduce confidence in the results.

Read NIST’s report on Security Considerations for Remote Electronic UOCAVA Voting (PDF).

The Electoral College is a process, not a place. The founding fathers established it in the Constitution as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens.