In all but two states, electoral votes are 'winner-take-all'. The candidate winning the popular vote normally receives* all of that state's votes. Maine and Nebraska have adapted a different approach. Using the 'congressional district method', these states allocate two electoral votes to the state popular vote winner, and then one electoral vote to the popular vote winner in each Congressional district (2 in Maine, 3 in Nebraska). This creates multiple popular vote contests in these states, which could lead to a split electoral vote.
Maine adapted this rule in advance of the 1972 presidential election, while Nebraska enacted it starting with the 1992 election. A split has occurred once in each of these states. In 2008, Barack Obama won Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District (Omaha and its suburbs), gaining a Democratic electoral vote in that state for the first time since 1964. In 2016, Donald Trump won Maine's 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of the state away from Portland, Augusta and nearby coastal areas. Statewide, Maine last voted Republican in 1988.
Our 2020 electoral map lets you split each district individually. Keep in mind that the popular vote winner of a state must win† at least one of the districts.
State legislatures decide how to allocate electoral college votes. There have been occasional efforts to change allocation methods over the years. These usually arise when the party of the losing presidential candidate differs from the party controlling the state legislature. If you'd like to learn more about some of the alternative methods that have been proposed and see how the 2012 and 2016 elections would have turned out if some or all of the states had used these different methods, visit our Gaming the Electoral College feature.
* 2016 saw seven electors cast their votes for someone other than to whom they were pledged. This was a historically high number; 'faithless electors' have been quite rare in modern times. Most elections have none. In any case, this kind of 'split' is different than that enacted into law by Maine and Nebraska.
† This is true in our current political environment where two candidates (the Democrat and Republican) receive almost all the votes. It would not necessarily have to hold if there was a 3rd party candidate that received a significant share of the votes.
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