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The Electoral College: Idaho's role in electing a president

With less than two months until Election Day, Idaho's Chief Deputy Secretary of State answers viewer questions about the Electoral College.

BOISE, Idaho — Once every four years, the Electoral College process is a big topic of conversation for voters.

The Electoral College is how the United States elects the president. Whichever candidate gets the majority of the 538 electoral votes wins. The magic number is 270; that's half plus one.

Each state has varying rules surrounding the Electoral College, but what do Idaho's processes consist of?

Chad Houck, Chief Deputy Secretary of State, has the answer.

“The electors for any given party are selected by their party’s state committee," Chief Deputy Secretary of State Chad Houck said. "They are given to us by that state committee and how they choose them is at the discretion of the state party."

States have different systems for determining how the electors cast their votes. In Idaho, it’s based on the results of the popular vote.

“In Idaho, it is a winner take all state, similar to over 40 of the states in the country that give all the electoral candidates to the party of the prevailing candidate,” Houck said.

Idaho is given four electoral votes. The party that wins the popular vote gets to have their four appointed electors cast their official vote in the Electoral College.

There is a process to determine how many electoral votes each state will receive.

“The census drives the percentage distribution of those 435 members of the House of Representatives that are part of the 535 members in Congress," Houck said. "Every state has got their senators, and we have two senators, and then we have a population distribution of how those 435 representatives are divided up. So with Idaho having two representatives and two senators, that’s actually how we get to our four votes."

The 535 is supplemented by three electoral votes assigned to Washington D.C., bringing the total 

The 535 number is supplemented by three electoral votes assigned to Washington D.C., bringing the total of electoral votes to 538.

While those four chosen electoral candidates determine which candidate will win the state, there is the possibility of an elector not voting for the winner of Idaho's popular vote.

“There have been instances in history where we’ve had a handful of 'faithless electors' is what they are called, that would go in pledging to make the Electoral College vote for one candidate and then at the last second flip that Electoral College vote to someone else,” Houck said.

In Idaho, this action has no consequences.

“There is nothing against the law for faithless electors in Idaho," Houck said. "It’s one of the reasons in the 2016 election that we saw a lot of actual activity in Idaho while people were trying to convince the Republican party electors to switch their vote perhaps. But it is not something that is prosecutable under current Idaho statute."

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