Over the past couple of weeks, as President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney could finally make out the finish line of the presidential race, they focused their efforts almost exclusively on the crucial "swing states" — in particular, the coveted state of Ohio. Residents of the Buckeye State have been flooded with swaths of political ads as both candidates (and even Jay-Z) made their way across the state.
First-time voters may be wondering: Why is Ohio hogging all the attention? Isn't every vote created equal?
Not exactly, due to a 200-year-old tradition called the Electoral College. And it's not the place Bushes, Kennedys and Romneys go after grad school. Luckily, MTV News is here to explain what it all really means.
The Electoral College, established in the 12th Amendment, creates a middle ground between a purely popular election — whereby citizens directly elect the president — and an election by Congress. Instead of declaring a winner based purely on the number of votes a candidate gets, it lets states elect people to vote for them. Imagine, for example, that each "American Idol" judge represented a different region of the country and voted for the singer of their region's choice. So if Nicki Minaj represented the Northeast, she would vote for Contestant A or Contestant B based on the region's votes.
In the race for president, a candidate needs 270 of the total 538 electoral votes to win an election. The number of electors a state gets is based on population — equal to its number of representatives plus two for each senator. The state of California, which is practically its own country, gets 55 electoral votes, while Idaho gets just four (sorry, Idaho).
In every state except Maine and Nebraska, electors (who are usually nominated by political parties in the state primaries or conventions) follow a "winner-takes-all" method, by which the candidate who gets the majority of the popular vote gets all the electoral votes.
That all-or-nothing mentality is why states that are historically loyal to one party — New York, for example, has only voted Republican once since the Great Depression — typically don't get that much attention. Meanwhile, especially in a tight race, it's the more unpredictable states like Florida (29 electoral votes) and Ohio (18 votes) that can determine an election.
During the highly contested 2000 election, the entire thing came down to a mere 537 votes in the coveted state of Florida. After a recount, the state ultimately went to George W. Bush, a decision that ignited anger from voters over whether the Electoral College is, indeed, fair.
And with mere hours left to vote, could Ohio find itself in the hot seat of a 2000-style election? Only time will tell. Either way, whether you're in the Buckeye State or not, get out to the polls. Because one way or another, your vote matters.
Stick with MTV News all Election Day for results, analysis and reports from Chicago, Boston and New York until a winner is declared. Share your voting stories by tweeting @MTVNews with the hashtags #GoVote or #IVoted!