My Australian relatives have asked me to define the Electoral College. They are trying to figure out how the USA democracy works. Why doesn’t the popular vote count directly for the president? This is what I told them.

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors who votes for the USA President and Vice-President. Voters on November 8 actually choose their state’s electors. The candidates receiving the majority of electoral votes (270) wins the Presidency. The number 538 is the total of the USA 435 Representatives, 100 Senators and 3 electors for the District of Columbia.

In Wisconsin, the candidate receiving the most votes takes all ten of its electoral votes. Winner-take-all system is present in 48 states.

In Nebraska and Maine, electoral votes are proportional. The top vote-getter wins 2 electoral votes (for the 2 Senators) while the remaining electoral votes are divided by congressional districts.

The process for selecting the electors varies from state to state. Usually, political parties nominate electors at their state conventions. The electors are usually state-elected officials and party leaders.

The electors do not have to vote for their party’s candidate. However, there are 27 states with laws that require electors to vote for their party’s candidate if that candidate gets a majority of the state’s popular vote. Usually the electors vote for their party’s nominee.

If no candidate gets a majority of Electoral College votes, the election goes to the U.S. House of Representatives. Each state casts one vote for the top three contenders and selects the winner. The Vice-President is chosen by the U.S. Senate with each state casting one vote.

The Electoral College votes in December (Monday following the second Wednesday). Those votes are sent to the President of the Senate who reads them to both houses of Congress on January 6.

This “indirect election” process has been criticized. There is a nationwide reform movement, state by state, to eliminate the Electoral College. The Founding Fathers thought it wise to create the Electoral College to protect the rights of smaller states. My Australian relatives weren’t convinced. The US method seems confusing and unnecessarily complicated.