US Presidential Elections: Electoral college is key to ballot

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The Independent Online
Americans may think they are electing their President today, but technically they are not. The formal vote that determines whether Bill Clinton or Bob Dole occupies the White House for the next four years will be cast by small groups of electors in mid-December in 50 state capitals and the District of Columbia. Welcome to that curious anachronism called the Electoral College.

It consists of 538 members, provided by each state on the basis of the the number of senators and representatives it sends to Congress. The smallest contingent is three, from states with only one House Representative and from the otherwise disenfranchised DC.

Far and away the largest bloc is from California, with 54 members, equal to its two senators and 52 House seats. Next, comes New York, with 33; Texas, with 32; Florida, with 25; Pennsylvania, with 23; Illinois, with 22 and Ohio, with 21.

It is possible to win an American election with a minority of the popular vote, an event which has only occurred twice. This time, however, it will not happen. The polls giving Mr Clinton a double-digit lead point to crushing Democratic majorities of the electoral and popular presidential votes.

The first clue will be traditionally Republican Indiana, where polls close at 6pm (11pm GMT). A Clinton win there, or a hairs' breadth Dole victory, means big trouble for the Republicans. In Kentucky, which also closes at 6pm, the fate of the first-term Republican, Ed Whitfield, in the state's District No1 may signal whether Newt Gingrich remains Speaker.

At 7pm (midnight GMT), the first results will come from East coast states, including Flo-rida and Virginia. If Clinton wins the first, he's sure of election; if he carries Virginia, it's a blow-out. At 7.30pm, polls close in Ohio, without which no Republican has won this century, and where Clinton leads.

Half an hour later, 17 states finish voting, including Texas, Massachusetts and most of the Midwest. If Clinton carries Texas, he could reach 270 there and then. But if his edge in Democratic Massachusetts drops below, say, 15 per cent, then the national race could be close.