The electoral college was a compromise made at the Constitutional Convention over how the president was going to be elected. Many delegates wanted Congress to vote and determine who became president. They were afraid everyday people could not be trusted with such an important decision. Another group wanted the president chosen by direct election with the winner being determined by who received the most votes in a popular election. The compromise was to have people vote for electors who would then vote for president. The number of electors each state has is the total number of senators and house of representative members the state has. In the U.S. election, what people are really voting for is a slate of electors who will then cast their own votes for who becomes president. The winner of the electoral college votes is the winner of the presidential election, in spite of the number of popular votes a candidate receives. For example, in the presidential election of 2000, Al Gore received more popular votes that George Bush, but Bush won the electoral college vote and thus became president.
It is the body of men and women that actually vote the President and Vice President elect into office.They meet the next month (December) after the national election, and cast a vote.
The electoral college was set up in our Constitution as the way we elect our president. It was set up as a "check" on the people's power. The founding fathers did not trust the general public to elect our chief executive.
Each state is given the number of electors equal to the number of representatives in the House of Representatives plus the number of senators. For example California has 53 members in the House and 2 senators, so it has 55 electoral votes (which is the state with the most electoral votes) In most states, if you win the popular vote you win all of the states electoral votes. The exceptions to this are Nebraska and Maine, where the electoral votes are split between the candidates based on the vote. Because of this a candidate can win the popular vote (more people voted for him) but still lose the presidency. This has happened four times, the most recent being the Bush-Gore election of 2000.
There are a total of 538 electors in the electoral college. In order for a president to be elected he needs to get 270 electoral votes. If no candidate gets 270 electoral votes then the president is chosen by the House of Representatives and the Vice President is chosen by the Senate.