The Electoral College is the system in which the President of the United States is elected.The simplest explanation of the Electoral College is that each state gets a certain number of electoral votes, the candidate getting a majority of the state's popular vote winning that state's votes, and the one getting the most electoral votes winning the election. As the system doesn't use popular vote as is, a large portion of people's votes go to waste.
The Electoral College is a broken system. there are a number of reasons for this, but the biggest is that it allows the loser of the popular vote to win the election, puts all the campaign focus on a few swing states like Ohio and gives some states more or fewer votes than they should, so not all votes are counted equally. The biggest problem with the electoral college, however, is that it allowed George W. Bush to become president, which would not have happened under a straight popular vote, as Al Gore actually got more votes (see 2000 U.S. Presidential Election). Donald Trump also won despite Hillary Clinton receiving more popular votes (see 2016 U.S. Presidential Election).
How It Works
All states have a certain amount of Congressional Districts based on their population, with each Congressional District representing one electoral vote. Every state must have at least one Congressional District. Every state, regardless of size and population, has exactly two senators, with each senator representing an electoral vote. Therefore, every state gets at least 3 electoral votes. Washington, D.C. does not have any senators but still has the minimal 3 required electoral votes. California has the most electoral votes, with 55. The total amount of electoral votes added up is 538. 48 of the 50 states in the union use a winner-take-all method, where the candidate with the most votes in the state combined captures all of the electoral votes. Every ten years, the U.S. Census is updated, along with the electoral college. The electoral college was last updated in 2011 and will be given its next update in 2021.
The remaining two (Maine and Nebraska), however, award electoral votes based on who wins congressional districts. Maine has two congressional districts, plus two senators giving them 4 electoral votes. Nebraska has three Congressional Districts plus the two senators, giving them 5 electoral votes. The statewide winner wins two electoral votes (the ones representing the senate) in both Maine and Nebraska. The remaining electoral votes are decided on who wins each Congressional District.
In 2008, Barack Obama won Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District, while McCain won the 1st and 3rd. Obama was ultimately awarded 1 electoral vote in Nebraska due to his 2nd CD victory, while McCain was awarded 4 electoral votes for winning the statewide vote and the other 2 CDs. In 2016, Donald Trump won Maine's 2nd Congressional District, but Clinton won the statewide vote along with the 1st Congressional District. Trump was ultimately awarded 1 electoral vote for his 2nd Congressional District victory, while Clinton was awarded 3 electoral votes for winning the statewide vote and the 1st Congressional District.
The first candidate to reach 270 electoral votes, the minimal majority, wins the election!
What if Nobody Reaches 270?
See Also: 269
There are a total of 538 electoral votes (435 HORs + 100 Senators + 3 Electoral votes in Washington, D.C.) Because 538 is an even number, a tie is possible where both candidates reach exactly 269.
So Why Does It Even Exist?
Originally the Electoral College was created because news traveled so slowly, the best system was to just have each state send delegates to Washington D.C. to decide the next president. But now, votes can be counted in a day and this clearly isn't an issue. Because news traveled so slowly, the founding fathers were worried that most people wouldn't have access to enough information to make an educated decision. Although that was originally a legitimate fear; nowadays, thanks to the internet, this excuse is no longer so valid.
Another Liberal Perspective
Many of the Founding Fathers, understood the problems which could occur under a truly democratic system of Government. They took pains to limit the power of the Federal Government, and ensure that no one region of the country would be able to control the Government even if that region had a majority of the population. The electoral college empowers each state, regardless of its population. Each state is guaranteed representation within each body of the Legislature, and representation in the electoral college. In our system of government, the executive branch is the only elected part of government that serves the entire nation, and the extraordinary limitations imposed by the electoral college help ensure that the executive will represent not only the majority of the population but also the majority of the geographic area of the country. The electoral college helps ensure that the executive will have to represent more than just the interests of a few states or a single region. Yes, it limits democracy, but our system accepts limits on democracy which ensure the rights of states, and individuals.