Opinion polls indicate this year's U.S. presidential election will be a
tight race similar to the historically close contest in 2000, and the
focus could once again be on which candidate can amass the majority of
electoral college votes.
Under the more than 200-year-old U.S. political system, the electoral
college actually decides the presidential race, and technically American
voters do not directly elect their president.
The electoral college is composed of representatives from all 50 states
and the District of Columbia (Washington DC). Each state is given a
number of electoral votes based on its congressional representation and
its population. The more populous a state is, the more electoral votes
it will have.
In most cases, the candidate who wins the highest number of popular
votes in a state gets all of that state's electoral votes.
The electoral college representatives will meet in their state capitals
in mid-December to cast their votes. The presidential candidate must
receive a simple majority - at least 270 out of 538 total electoral
votes - to win the election.
The confusing system has resulted in four elections - 1824, 1876, 1888,
and 2000 - in which the winner of the popular vote has lost the
election. The 2000 election, in which Republican George W. Bush won a
slight majority of electoral college votes, but Democrat Al Gore
received more popular votes - put the spotlight on a system that critics
consider archaic. However, the system magnifies the power of small
states, which would be unlikely to agree to amend the U.S. Constitution
to reform the system.