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Electors cast presidential votes

Playing their formal role in the ritual of choosing the president, electors in each state are gathering in their state capitols Monday to cast their votes.

Toby Talbot / AP

Members of Vermont's electoral college take their oath of office on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012 in Montpelier, Vt.

On Election Day voters in all 50 states picked a slate of electors, loyalists chosen by the leaders of the respective parties. 

On Monday those party-chosen electors play their brief but crucial part in the process of selecting the man who’ll serve as president for four years.

Based on the results of the balloting on Nov. 6, President Barack Obama won 332 electoral votes and Republican Mitt Romney won 206. A total of 270 electoral votes are required to win the presidency.

There are 538 electors in all, with each state getting a total equal to its number of House members and its two senators. Hawaii, for instance, has four electors, while Texas has 38.

The electors from all 50 states and the District of Columbia never meet in one place at the same time. The Framers of the Constitution feared that if the electors met in one place, they’d be vulnerable to "cabal, intrigue and corruption," as Alexander Hamilton put it.

Since the first election in 1789, only 11 electors have voted for a candidate other than the one to whom they were pledged. In 2004, for example, a Minnesota elector who was pledged to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry instead voted for Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards.

All but two states, Nebraska and Maine, use a winner-take-all system in which the person getting the most popular votes gets all of the state’s electoral votes.

In October, Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., introduced a constitutional amendment that would award 29 bonus electoral votes to the winner of the nationwide popular vote.

“The election for president should be an election for the whole country, not just the swing states,” Israel said, adding that “we would be better served in the future if presidential candidates had an incentive to campaign in places like New York and Texas as well as swing states like New Hampshire and Iowa. By giving a bonus vote of 29 electoral votes, swing states would remain important, but states like New York would have a meaningful voice too.”

Israel said he chose 29 as the bonus number since it is big enough to break an electoral vote tie, but not enough to undermine the influence of small swing states in the electoral vote tally.

In Pennsylvania, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi plans to introduce legislation to award Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes proportionately to the popular vote in the state, rather than by using the winner-take-all system. “This advantage of this system is clear: It much more accurately reflects the will of the voters in our state,” Pileggi said.

In 2004 Democrats in Colorado proposed a ballot initiative that would have scrapped the winner-take-all allocation of electoral votes and changed to proportional allocation, but Colorado voters rejected it.