United States Electoral College
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The Electors have to cast their votes based on the people that they are representing. One could argue that the Electors serve no real purpose and under most conditions they would be right. The Electors themselves are just bodies to cast the apportioned votes. However, under some conditions the electors could change their votes and during particularly close elections this has potential to spark what many like to call a constitutional crisis.
Each state has the same number of electors as their representation in Congress, so the minimum is 3, and currently the state with the most is California, with 55.
It is also possible for electors to cast their vote for a different candidate than the state's voters sent them to vote for. These are called faithless electors, and have never been punished. This has happened, but only rarely, and never in sufficient numbers to change the outcome of an election.
 Pros and cons
The main argument behind the use of the Electoral College is that it prevents the development of factions. In a pure democracy 51 percent of the voters could control the other 49 percent, but in the Electoral College system, the minority still has a strong voice. Another reason often given in the US is that it equalizes the power between states to some degree. If elections were just about winning a popular vote, a candidate could run a campaign appealing only to a handful of the most populated states. With the electoral college system a much larger block of states must be won - however, with the first past the post system in place in most states, only a handful of important states are currently considered in play anyway.
Another problem is the severe imbalance between the less populated states and the densely populated states. Wyoming has a population of 515,004  and 3 electoral votes, whereas California has a population of 36,457,549.  and 55 electoral votes This amounts to 5.8 × 10−6 electoral votes per person in Wyoming compared to 1.5 × 10−6 per person in California. Essentially, a Wyoming voter is valued by the electoral college at 3.8 times more than a California voter ((5.8 × 10−6) ÷ (1.5 × 10−6)).
 What if no majority is reached?
The Constitution specifically states a candidate for President or Vice President must receive a majority of the electoral votes to win (currently 270). If there is a tie (or a third or fourth party siphons off enough votes) then the process gets even less democratic, since Congress would be in charge of electing the president. Should this happen, the House of Representatives would be responsible for electing the President and the Senate would be in charge of picking the Vice President, from the top three electoral college vote getters. However, not all Congresscritters and Senators can vote, since voting would be on a one state-one vote basis, hence the winner would need to get 26 votes. That means that each state delegation would have to work this out on their own, and while a simple majority would be enough in a state that has a majority of one party or the other, it could present a problem in states that are evenly split. This has happened twice before in American history, in 1800 (see below for details) and in 1824 (luckily these have been the only two times). The 1824 election is particularly notable as it has been labeled the "corrupt bargain." That year, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and William Harris Crawford all ran. Jackson, Adams, and Crawford were the top three vote getters, Jackson had won a plurality of the electoral and popular votes and hoped that Congress would elect him; however, Adams won. Jackson supporters alleged that Clay instructed those states' votes which he controlled to vote for Adams, in exchange for Adams making him Secretary of State.
Should no decision in Congress be reached on both the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections by inauguration day the Speaker of the House of Representatives would get sworn in.
 Does it have to be this way?
The Constitution itself is silent about the details of the electors. All it says is that state legislatures are in charge of determining how to pick the electors, not who the electors are (other than they cannot currently hold any elected office), nor how they have to vote. Prior to the 1860s many states had their legislatures pick their state's slate of electors, and in theory a state could hold a lottery, auction, or find some other means of deciding. Luckily, all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) have gone the democracy route. However, the Constitution also does not specify a winner-take-all system. Nebraska and Maine are two states that have legal provisions allowing that if enough votes go to the candidate who lost in the state, then the electors can be determined proportionally (which happened in Nebraska in 2008, when Barack Obama actually won one of the state's electoral votes). Other states could also follow this model, which could make the Electoral College even more democratic, especially in swing states.
The term "Electoral College" was not written into law until 1845, but was spelled out in the Constitution under Article II, Section 1, Clause 2:
“”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 Electoral College had its only revision in 1804 with the ratification of the Twelfth Amendment, which was passed in response to the botched election of 1800. Prior to its passage, electors were given two votes, both for President. The man (or person...) with the highest vote total would be President, the second highest would be Vice-President. In 1796 John Adams of the Federalist party won the most votes and Thomas Jefferson came in second. The result was a President and Vice-President who hated each other. In 1800 Thomas Jefferson's party, the Democratic-Republicans, wanted Jefferson to get the most votes and Aaron Burr to get the second most. However, due to some irregularities during the election, Jefferson and Burr tied, throwing the election to the House of Representatives (which determines the winner in the case of a tie on a one state, one vote basis). Adams controlled the votes of enough states to prevent a majority from being decided. Thanks to some political wheeling and dealing (and the fact that Adams saw Jefferson as the lesser of two evils) the election went to Jefferson. The states ratified the Twelfth Amendment a consequence of this election. This changed the electoral college so that electors had one vote for President and one vote for Vice-President, making them separate elections.
Of all the Founding Fathers, the one most closely linked to this method of election is James Madison. In the Federalist Papers No. 10 Madison spells out the dangers of factions and imparting too much power to a simple majority. In the Federalist Papers No. 39, he further developed the idea in that the federal executive should be elected in a manner that combines the state and federal system. He argued that the Constitution was designed to be a mixture of federal (state-based) and national (population-based) government. The Congress would have two houses, one federal and one national in character, while the President would be elected by a mixture of the two modes, giving some electoral power to the states and some to the people in general.
Moreover, it can be argued that the system was set in place because a poor farmer in Georgia would not be able to know enough about prominent people in Massachusetts, or even Virginia, to vote for them. Therefore, local people vote for a local representative, who is then entrusted with the vote. The same idea could have been achieved by having Congress select the President, but this would have then made the President beholden to the Congress, rather than to the people at large.
- ↑ This is despite the fact that several states have laws making this illegal. See the other wiki for more.
- ↑ http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/56000.html
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 http://www.fec.gov/pages/elecvote.htm
- ↑ http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/06000.html