Understanding the Electoral College in Washington DC

Learn about how Washington DC residents are awarded three electoral votes since 1961 and how citizens vote for president.

Understanding the Electoral College in Washington DC

The Electoral College is the system used to elect the President and Vice President of the United States, as outlined in the Constitution. It works by states electing electors who then cast their votes for a presidential candidate; these votes are then tallied by Congress. Therefore, when a citizen casts their ballot in a general election, they are actually voting for a list of electors associated with a particular presidential candidate. Washington DC residents have been granted three electoral votes since 1961, when the 23rd Amendment gave District citizens a greater political voice. In each of the 15 presidential elections since then, the district has voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate, with a margin of no less than 56.5 percentage points. The Democratic Party has immense political power in the District.

After citizens vote for president, their vote is counted in a state recount. In 48 states and Washington DC, Maine and Nebraska assign their electors through a proportional system. A candidate needs to receive at least 270 electoral votes, more than half of all electors, to win the presidential election. Although the Constitution does not require voters to vote for the candidate chosen by the popular vote in their state, some states do. The rare voter who chooses to vote for someone else can be fined, disqualified and replaced by a substitute voter, or even be prosecuted by their state. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the decision goes to the House of Representatives.

The first time this happened was after the presidential election of 1800, when the House elected Thomas Jefferson. And after the presidential elections of 1824, the House elected John Quincy Adams as president. For more information on how the Electoral College works and how voters are chosen, please contact your country of origin or visit an official website of the United States government such as GoVa.gov.

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