The electoral college members are the people who select the President of the United States. They meet in December each election year to vote for the candidate who they feel should be President. They are a group of 535 people who are unknown to the general public. United States territories do not have electoral college members; therefore, their votes are purely symbolic. Over 4 million Americans live in US territories. Electoral College members are not bound to the votes of their state citizens and have voted against their citizens 87 times thus far.
How does it work?
As a nation, we start off with one electoral member for each member of Congress in addition to each senator.
535 Electoral College Members
Each state starts off with three electoral members, regardless of population size. The number of electoral members allotted is then divided amongst the states based on the population of each state. Because each state starts off with three electoral members the distribution of members is not truly proportional to the population of the state. Each member is allotted one vote. To win a national election a candidate must win 270 votes.
Because of winner-take-all, the candidates for president only have to win a state by over 50% to collect all of its electoral votes. Currently, 48/50 states have winner-take-all systems in place. Candidates historically spend less money and time on the constituents living in states where there is a clear preference for a party. For example, a state that is routinely blue will likely not have a strong investment from either party.
The electoral college sustains an environment where candidates need to win states and not people. With a marginal win in enough states, any candidate can become president. In the presidential elections of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 the candidate with the majority vote of the American people lost the election because of the electoral college.
Where did it come from?
The concept of having representatives tied to population size dates back to 1787 when southern states wanted to protect their economic interests in slavery by having a larger presence in Congress. The electoral college is based on the three-fifths compromise which came about so that slave-holding states could have more voting power by counting slaves as three-fifths of a person to gain more representatives in Congress.
Why do we still have it?
In modern day times, there is no rational need for an electoral college. Other democracies are run successfully by the popular vote of the people.
Can we do without it?
Yes, we can do without it. Democracy is freedom of choice. The United States of America sets up democracies all over the world where the people are free to vote for their representatives. Each vote is weighted the same, and leadership is decided by the people. If on a federal level the people are trusted to choose their governors and representatives, why not then on a national scale.