Every four years, the election process for President and Vice President follows a familiar timeline of events. At the same time, a related series of procedures governing electoral college actions proceeds on a parallel track. This report focuses on the electoral college timeline for the 2020 presidential election. For additional information on the electoral college, see CRS Report RL32611, The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections, by Thomas H. Neale.
How the Electoral College Works
The current workings of the Electoral College are the result of both design and
experience. As it now operates:
• Each State is allocated a number of Electors equal to the number of its
U.S. Senators (always 2) plus the number of its U.S. Representatives
(which may change each decade according to the size of each State's
population as determined in the Census).
• The political parties (or independent candidates) in each State submit to
the State's chief election official a list of individuals pledged to their
candidate for president and equal in number to the State's electoral vote.
Usually, the major political parties select these individuals either in their
State party conventions or through appointment by their State party
leaders while third parties and independent candidates merely designate
• Members of Congress and employees of the federal government are
prohibited from serving as an Elector in order to maintain the balance
between the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.
• After their caucuses and primaries, the major parties nominate their
candidates for president and vice president in their national conventions
traditionally held in the summer preceding the election. (Third parties and
independent candidates follow different procedures according to the
individual State laws). The names of the duly nominated candidates are
then officially submitted to each State's chief election official so that they
might appear on the general election ballot.
• On the Tuesday following the first Monday of November in years divisible
by four, the people in each State cast their ballots for the party slate of
Electors representing their choice for president and vice president
(although as a matter of practice, general election ballots normally say
"Electors for" each set of candidates rather than list the individual Electors
on each slate).
• Whichever party slate wins the most popular votes in the State becomes