What Is The Difference Between Delegates And Electors? These People Ultimately Choose The Winners
As we get closer to Nov. 8, the election lingo is changing. And no, I don't mean from "basket of deplorables" to "grab them." Rather, it's the technical language that you need to ensure you can dissect the never-ending coverage of the 2016 race. Thus far, you've heard a lot about delegates, but now there's "elector" too. So what is the difference between delegates and electors?
They're similar in a lot of ways. Both are people elected by the individual political parties to represent the will of voters. Because of the way United States' primaries and elections are run, popular vote doesn't choose the winners. Instead, there is a smaller group of people elected at the state level to represent their views at later votes, which officially decide the winners. For the delegates, that vote happens at the individual party conventions, usually over the summer. For the electors, who belong to the Electoral College, it occurs after the general election, on the following Monday (this year Nov. 14). Sometimes, one person can be both and participate in both votes.
The rules for the delegates' votes are made by the parties themselves. That's why we heard a lot about superdelegates and rules before the Democratic and Republican primaries this year. They can change the number of delegates, as Democrats have by reducing superdelegates, and the rules around them — the GOP tried to ensure there was a clear winner by making sure that a candidate won a majority of delegates in at least eight states to be eligible. Some then later saw it as a way to stop Trump.
The rules for the electors, on the other hand, were originally set by the Constitution:
Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
The ways in which the electors are appointed or elected varies from state to state, and they almost always give all their votes to the winner of the popular vote in the state. Nebraska and Maine allow their electoral votes to be split partially by congressional district, too. There are some states which require their electors to vote for the popular vote winner, but not all do. That means someone could be selected to support one candidate, but then change their mind at the last minute. While possible, it has never swayed a presidential election in history.
Whether you agree with them or not, it's good to understand the way these systems work while we have them.