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The Electoral College: The basics and importance of electors

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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) - The electoral college decides who will become the next president of the United States.

A candidate needs to secure 270 electoral votes of the 538 available in order to win. Electors from each state cast their ballots.

Bill Feehan will get to live out a political dream in December serving as an elector in the upcoming 2020 election.

"To be part of history and to actually be able to cast a vote in the electoral college is really proud moment for me," said Feehan.

But the role Bill will play in the election almost didn't happen. When the framers of the constitution were writing one of America's most sacred documents, they had a dilemma. How does the country select a president? They considered options like letting Congress decide or the people directly. But instead of those options, they settled on a new system.

"The odd compromise that they made was that they would have a body of people who would elect the president and that body of people would be called the electoral college, so the electoral college is a group of people and they are people who actually vote for the president," said Anthony Chergosky, UW-La Crosse Political Science Professor.

Since that creation, the electoral college system has changed over time with 48 states adopting a winner take all concept.

"In today's world, the outcome of the popular vote is supposed to determine how a state's electoral votes are cast in December," said Chergosky.

Chergosky added that electors like Feehan are expected to go with the state's popular vote when they cast their ballots in December.

Each state's Congressional delegation decides how many electors vote. For Wisconsin and Minnesota, that's 10 each since the states have eight members of Congress and two senators. Those electors will travel to their respective state capitols to leave their mark on history.

"There will be a ceremony and we'll cast our ballots for the president of the United States and so those ballots will then become part of the national electoral vote that will determine who the President of the United States is," said Feehan.

There have been four examples of candidates winning the popular vote but losing the electoral college. The two most recent are in 2000 when George Bush defeated Al Gore, and then in 2016 when Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

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Mike Beiermeister

WXOW Weekend Anchor and Reporter

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