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If the US electoral college system was like ordering a pizza, here's how it would work

The electoral college system is complex and confusing, but we've boiled it down to one oversimplified food analogy. And it involves pizza.

As the electoral college votes on who will become the next president and vice-president of the United States, you may be wondering how the process works.

The system is complicated, and we've broken it down in a few different ways:

But in case that hasn't cut through, we've tried to sizzle it all down to one (disclaimer: oversimplified) food analogy.

So, it's like ordering a pizza…

Imagine it's Christmas Day with your extended family and the oven has broken.

With no way to cook your ham and no gas in the BBQ to try and salvage it, grandma decides we'll order pizzas.

She calls the pizzeria, but they're so busy they're only making two flavours — capricciosa and margherita — and say you can only choose one.

Fights ensue amongst the family over which flavour to choose, until grandma comes up with a system…

Here's how it works:

Each of the six branches of your extended family will first decide which flavour of pizza they want by holding a vote.

Then a representative from each family will tell grandma their family's choice — six "votes" for her to tally. The winner of that vote is the pizza flavour she'll order for everyone.

So each family goes into a huddle; five families vote for capricciosa and one votes for margherita.

Pie chart shows small slice (1) for Margherita and a large (5) slice for capricciosaPie chart shows small slice (1) for Margherita and a large (5) slice for capricciosa

One person from each family then goes to grandma. They know they are supposed to tell her the flavour their family has chosen — but one uncle decides to flip.

His family voted majority capricciosa, but he figures his kids always pick off the toppings, so he's changing the vote to margherita.

Grandma does the tally and…
Flavour Votes Capricciosa 4 Margherita 2
Pie chart shows more than a quarter slice (2) for Margherita and an almost three-quarter slice (4) for capricciosaPie chart shows more than a quarter slice (2) for Margherita and an almost three-quarter slice (4) for capricciosa

Despite *that* uncle's betrayal, the capricciosas have it. Grandma places the order.

As it happens, the capricciosa tasted awful, and the family rues not voting for margherita.

They say they'll vote differently next year. Or maybe they'll just fix the oven.

Takeaway pizza in a boxTakeaway pizza in a box
Mmmm, pizza.(Pixabay: mac231)
In this analogy:

Each family = a US state

Family representative = electors

Pizza flavours = presidential candidates

Grandma = Congress

Your uncle = faithless elector

But it doesn't cover everything

It must be stressed — this is an oversimplified analogy.

For example, in the electoral college system, each state (family) has a different number of electoral votes, depending on its population. So grandma's system might need to allow for weighting if some families are larger than others.

In real life, each state plus the District of Columbia has electors affiliated with the two political parties. For example, Hillary Clinton is a Democratic elector in the state of New York.

The winning side of each state's poll dictates which group of electors (which family member) gets to cast their vote for president and vice-president (tell grandma which flavour they want).

What happens to the uncle in this analogy?

He may feel the cold shoulder from the kids, but they won't kick him out of the family.

In the electoral college system he would be called a "faithless elector".

Across 33 US states, plus the District of Columbia, there are laws or political party regulations forcing electors to follow the popular vote in that state.

But they do sometimes break ranks and vote against the outcome of their state's popular vote.

In 2016, seven US electors did just that, the largest number in more than a century.

Why isn't the system just majority rules?

The electoral college system was enshrined under the US Constitution to spread the power of electing the president across all the states.

Defenders of the system say it is essential to ensuring each state's interests are represented.

But a September poll found 61 per cent of Americans support abolishing the electoral college in favour of using a popular vote instead.

There is some momentum behind a push towards a popular vote

Fifteen states and DC have voted to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact that would see electoral votes be awarded to the presidential candidate who wins the overall popular vote.

Once enough states with the necessary number of electors have signed on — a minimum of 270 — the compact will come into effect.

The compact currently has the support of 196 electoral votes.

Bart Simpson writes Bart Simpson writes
"I did not learn everything I need to know in kindergarten" — Bart Simpson, season 8, episode 2.(Supplied)
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