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Without getting too worked up over the election, does the amount of electoral votes allotted to a state ever change? Will California ever change from 55 to say 54, 56, or something else? If so, how does this change occur?

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2 Answers 2

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The number of Electoral College votes changes every census. Article II, Section 1, clause 2 declares that it is tied to the number of Sentators and Representatives for each state:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Every state gets two Senators, so they get two Electoral Votes. They also get representatives proportional to their population (minimum one), so they get at least one more Electoral Vote. From Article I, Section 2, clause 3:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers [...]

The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at least one Representative;…

The Numbers (i.e. the population of the United States) has been calculated in different ways over time (e.g. slaves were counted as 3/5ths of a person until the Fourteenth Amendment). Currently the Constitution states that it is counted by all men and women aged 18 or older, aside from untaxed Native Americans (according to the Native American Rights Fund, all Native Americans today pay federal income taxes, thus they would be counted).

Since a census is performed every 10 years, the number of representatives are recalculated through a process called apportionment. The most recent reapportionment as of the time of this writing was on December 21, 2010 (following the 2010 census). A number of states changed, with the biggest gain being Texas receiving four additional Electoral Votes and the biggest losses being Ohio and New York losing two Electoral Votes each. The next apportionment will occur after the 2020 census, which will affect the 2022 congressional election and the 2024 presidential election.

You mentioned California specifically. As you can see from this chronological table, the number of Electoral votes has ranged from 4 following the 1850 census to 55 following the 2000 census (it stayed the same after the 2010 census).

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  • Native Americans don't count?!
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 21:31
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    @gerrit Not if they are untaxed. However, all Native Americans today pay taxes. Edited to clarify. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 21:45
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    @gerrit The Indians Not Taxed category of persons was eliminated legislatively in 1924. "On June 2, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge signed into law the Indian Citizenship Act, which marked the end of a long debate and struggle, at a federal level, over full birthright citizenship for American Indians." constitutioncenter.org/blog/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 2, 2023 at 18:45
  • It should be noted that the Constitution doesn't specify how many total members the House of Representatives should have, just that it's between 50 (one for each state) and 11,000 (one for every 30,000 residents). The current 435 is just a historical accident resulting from Congress being unable to agree on "How many Representatives should we have?" after the 1920 census, so they just left the number where it was, and never changed it again.
    – dan04
    Commented May 3, 2023 at 14:11
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According to Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

The number of electoral votes for each state may change whenever there is a Census and reapportionment of congressional districts. The next Census is scheduled for 2020.

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