It was in January of 1789, America held its first presidential election.  Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote – the first use of what we know today as the Electoral College system.  George Washington won the election and was sworn into office the following April.

We still use the Electoral College as it was written into the U.S. Constitution.  The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote. 

The way it works is political parties nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions.  Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress.  On Election Day, the candidates from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system.

Critics of the Electoral College say a candidate can be elected president even if he gets fewer popular votes than his opponent.  And it’s happened three times - in the elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000.  But supporters says if the Electoral College were done away with, states with big populations like California and Texas could decide every election and smaller states would be ignored.

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