(LIN) — When you head to the polls Tuesday and make your choice for president of the United States, you aren't actually voting for President Barack Obama or his GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
Your individual vote is rounded up into the popular vote, but that's not what determines who wins the presidential election.
The Electoral College was established in the 23rd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It was created to make sure that Congress didn't have too much power to elect the president, but to give an alternative to the popular vote of the public.
Each state is allotted the same number of electors as its number of members in the House of Representatives and Senate. Washington D.C. is also permitted three electors.
Therefore, states who have more Congressional delegates (California - 55, Texas - 38, Florida – 29) have more electors who place their vote for president.
Just who are these electors?
Both Obama and Romney have their own group of electors in your state. They are more than likely chosen by the Democratic or Republican parties. They can be state-elected officials, party leaders or anyone with an affiliation with the candidate. According to the Constitution, though, they cannot be a U.S. senator or representative.
So if you aren't directly voting for the president, why vote?
Most of the time, electors cast their votes for the candidate who received the most votes in the states. So if a Democratic presidential candidate receives the most votes, the state's dedicated Democratic Party activists who have been chosen as its electors will cast the votes in that candidates favor.
The winner of the presidential election is the candidate who collects 270 votes from Electoral College voters.
So, by casting your vote for president, you are choosing your state's electoral votes.
Can a president win the popular vote, but not receive enough electorate votes?
Yes. There have been times when electors vote contrary to the popular vote of the state, and while this rarely happens, there is no federal law to keep it from happening.
There have been four times this has happened: 1824, 1876, 1888 and recently in 2000.
In 2000, Al Gore had more than 500,000 more popular votes than George W. Bush. After a recount in Florida, Bush was awarded the state after Bush yielded 537 additional popular votes. Since Florida is a "winner-take-all", Bush received all of the state's electoral votes, giving him 271 total electoral votes to win the presidency.
Controversy and talking points
While the Electoral College helps keep power away from the government in choosing the next president, many would love to see the Electoral College abolished and see elections determined by the popular vote.
One of the arguments both for and against the current system is that voters in small states have a slightly greater influence on the outcome of the presidential election than those in large states.
Because of this candidates tend to skip over small states while campaigning, focusing their attention mostly on swing states where the outcome is less predictable.
Unfortunately, to abolish the Electoral College and go to a system where the popular vote elects the president, Congress would have to pass a constitutional amendment, which requires a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and Congress, plus a ratification by three-fourths of all states.
States to watch on Tuesday
As of now, the presidential race is virtually tied, although Romney has closed the gap quite a bit throughout the final months of the campaign.
The nation will look to certain battleground states Tuesday, where voters could turn the election in either candidate's favor. Eight states – Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire – combined make 95 electoral votes, and those votes are crucial on the road to 270.
Ohio, which accounts for 18 electoral votes, seems to be the state this election may come down to, and both Obama and Romney are making many stops there in the next few days.
Whether you live in a swing state or not, your vote is important. Despite feelings of the legitimacy of the electoral voting process, this election will come down to each and every vote, and the value of your vote cannot be understated.
In the final days of the race, polls don't matter. Campaign advertising doesn't matter. Arguably, where each candidate spends his time doesn't matter.
What matters is your vote, and in this close presidential race, anything is possible for this election.
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