Electoral College (EC) refers to a set of electors (other than ordinary voters) selected to elect an individual to fill a particular office. Examples include the contemporary U.S. Presidential electoral college (which is generally what most in the U.S. refer to by "Electoral College"), the contemporary French Senatorial electoral college, the contemporary College of Cardinals who elect the Pope and the college of prince-electors of the Holy Roman Empire.
The U.S. Electoral College can be roughly described as assigning to each state a percentage of electoral votes roughly equivalent to their percentage of the national population (though small states get slightly more electoral votes). Each state has to choose "electors" who then convene to decide who should become President and Vice President. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, then Congress is called into action to decide who should become President among the 3 candidates with the most electoral votes. Originally, the Electoral College was meant to resemble something like Asset voting, where the electors were to be elected on a district-by-district basis in each state, and were supposed to discuss amongst themselves and have the final decision-making power of who should become President. This was, to at least some extent, because the Founding Fathers feared democracy. However, over time the role of the electors has largely become ceremonial; with the exception of some "faithless electors", most electors vote for the presidential ticket their state told them to vote for, and the U.S. presidential election is viewed largely as decided by the will of the people.
One issue raised with the U.S. EC is that it can fail to elect the candidate who got the most votes overall i.e. the candidate who would've won if the election was based on a National Popular Vote can lose. This notably occurred in the 2000 and 2016 elections, where George Bush and Donald Trump had more electoral votes respectively, but Al Gore and Hillary Clinton had more popular votes. There has been much discussion over whether and how to address this concern; some advocate for an NPV as outlined in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (though note that some regard this as unconstitutional). Others take a more intermediate approach, and criticize the EC for being run on a "winner-takes-all" basis in most states (meaning that the majority or even plurality of voters in the state decide who all of the state's electoral votes go to) rather than a proportional basis (meaning that a candidate who won, say, 55% of a state's popular vote would get roughly 55% of its electoral votes).
- What is the Electoral College? Project Vote Smart
- Critique of the U.S. Presidential Electoral College
- National Popular Vote