What You Need to Know About California’s Electoral College Electors

Congressional clerks help unseal and organize the Electoral College votes from all 50 states in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 4, 2013.

Congressional clerks help unseal and organize the Electoral College votes from all 50 states in the U.S. House of Representatives on Jan. 4, 2013. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

You may have thought the presidential election was over weeks ago, but there’s another step in the process. Members of the national Electoral College must formally cast their votes. Whichever candidate receives 270 or more votes will be sworn in as the next president of the United States.

Who are California’s electors?

California gets 55 electoral votes, one for each of its U.S. senators and its 53 members of Congress. California has 55 electors, and they each get to cast two votes: one for president, one for vice president. The party whose candidate wins the popular vote in California gets to choose the electors, and each has a different method.

The Democrats, who won this year, allow each Democratic congressional nominee and each Senate nominee from the last two elections to choose an elector.

Must electors vote for whoever won the popular vote in the state?

California is among the 29 states and the District of Columbia that require electors to vote for the candidate who won the state’s popular vote.

Generally electors are party loyalists who tend to support the winning candidate. Still, state election code does compel them to vote for the popular vote winner. It reads: “The electors, when convened, if both candidates are alive, shall vote by ballot for that person for President and that person for Vice President of the United States, who are, respectively, the candidates of the political party which they represent.” Since the electors all represent the winning party, this ensures the candidate who won the popular vote will receive all the electoral votes.

This year a California elector challenged the law requiring electors to follow the popular vote. A federal judge ruled against him and the elector has appealed. The legal challenge has been called a last-ditch effort to block Donald Trump from getting enough electoral votes to win the presidency.

How do electors cast their votes?

The state code requires the designated electors to meet in Sacramento, “at 2 o clock in the afternoon on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December next following their election.”

On that day the electors will meet in the state Assembly chambers to formally cast their votes. They will be sworn into office and presented with two simple ballots, one for president and one for vice president. The electors must simply vote yes or no for the Democratic nominees. There are no other candidates on the ballot and no space to write in a candidate. The votes will be tallied in the meeting.

You can watch the vote live online at 2 p.m. Monday. The votes from all of the country’s electors will be counted in a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.

  • Hillary Clintub

    If that potentially unfaithful California elector refuses to vote as the law demands, they need to revoke his or her credentials, replace him with one who will act legally and prosecute him for attempted embezzlement of his employer’s property. That electoral vote isn’t his property to dispose of as he wishes. To do other than the popular vote in California demands would amount to attempted insurrection. Facing a firing squad would be appropriate. No election would be safe if we allowed that kind of flaunting of the spirit of the rules.

  • Hillary Clintub

    USA Today reporting just a few minutes ago: “Despite a last-minute push by outside progressive and Libertarian groups, there’s little indication of a significant rebellion. In fact, the only “faithless” electors thus far appear to be Clinton defectors in Washington state, with three voting for former secretary of State Colin Powell and one for Faith Spotted Eagle, a Native American and environmental activist.”


Katie Orr

Katie Orr is a Sacramento-based reporter for KQED's Politics and Government  Desk, covering the state Capitol and a variety of issues including women in politics, voting and elections and legislation. Prior to joining KQED in 2016, Katie was state government reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. She's also worked for KPBS in San Diego, where she covered City Hall.

Katie received her masters degree in political science from San Diego State University and holds a Bachelors degree in broadcast journalism from Arizona State University.

In 2015 Katie won a national Clarion Award for a series of stories she did on women in California politics. She's been honored by the Society for Professional Journalists and, in 2013, was named by The Washington Post as one of the country's top state Capitol reporters.   She's also reported for the award-winning documentary series The View from Here and was part of the team that won  national PRNDI and  Gabriel Awards in 2015. She lives in Sacramento with her husband. Twitter: @1KatieOrr

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