Making Waves: Secrets of the Electoral College

On Wednesday morning, Nov. 4, we’ll wake up to see who’s president.

Every four years, you vote for a president but I’ll bet you don’t know how the president is elected. That’s alright, nobody else knows either. Something about an Electoral College.


It’s the big secret that everyone pretends to know, but really doesn’t. Like at the party when someone says, “Our votes don’t count because the president is elected by the Electoral College,” and everyone nods and hopes someone changes the subject before it is found out that no one at the party knows what the heck the Electoral College is.

But you’re in luck, I know and I’ll tell you. It took me awhile, but I finally got it.

The Electoral College is not a college, and it does not elect anyone. It’s a bunch of people placed, according to population, throughout the country closely matching the same number of congresspeople in each state. For instance there are four electors in Hawaii and 55 in California, 11 in Arizona, etc. When you vote and your guy wins in your state, all the elector votes in your state are given to the winner. These are the only votes that are counted.

It was formed to make everything fair so the smaller states could get in the act at election time. Without the Electoral College, the candidates would only schmooze voters in big states. The larger populations in a few states could elect the president and smaller ones like Hawaii and Rhode Island would be ignored. They’d say,“Forget those other states, all we need is New York and California to win.”

They put electors in all the states so politicians have to go around and B.S. everyone equally.

America is not a Democracy. It is not like a barnyard where farmers can raise their hands to vote on a new pig pen. It’s hard to count 100 million people raising their hands for president. They needed to streamline the operation. This is how they did it.

They made an electoral system much like the U.S. Congress with its 535 people. The Electoral College is the same set up only with 538 (adding three for Washington D.C.).

The electors are mostly elected. It’s an ego thing, they are wined and dined around town but they only get $15 dollars a day — it’s like glorified jury duty. Their job is to see who wins in their state and send in the number of electoral votes to Washington D.C.

A fifth-grader could tally the winners with a pen and paper but we like the hoopla.

In the past a few electors have rebelled, they called them “faithless,” and voted for whom they wanted, which threw off the whole thing. But lately, the Supreme Court made it illegal to be a faithless voter and vote their own way. Now they follow the rules.

So whoever wins the popular vote in each state gets all the electoral votes in that state.

Like with Joe Biden and President Donald Trump. Let’s say 100,000 people in Hawaii vote for Biden and 310 vote for Trump. Biden wins and gets all four electoral votes in Hawaii. The number of popular votes doesn’t matter, they throw the paper ballots into a big shredder. Whoever wins is all that counts. Winner takes all.

On to California with 55 electoral votes. Say Trump gets 100,000 votes and Biden gets 300 votes. Trump gets 55 electoral votes. On it goes, counting state by state.

There are 538 electoral “votes,” half of that is 269, so the first candidate to get 270 votes, the majority, wins the election.


Don’t worry, your vote counts, how else can you pick a winner?

Dennis Gregory writes a bi-monthly column for West Hawaii Today and welcomes your comments at