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Electoral College in Presidential Race Spotlight

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.