At the time of the Philadelphia convention, no other country in the world directly elected its chief executive, so the delegates were wading into uncharted territory. Further complicating the task was a deep-rooted distrust of executive power. After all, the fledgling nation had just fought its way out from under a tyrannical king and overreaching colonial governors. They didn’t want another despot on their hands.
One group of delegates felt strongly that Congress shouldn’t have anything to do with picking the president. Too much opportunity for chummy corruption between the executive and legislative branches.
Another camp was dead set against letting the people elect the president by a straight popular vote. First, they thought 18th-century voters lacked the resources to be fully informed about the candidates, especially in rural outposts. Second, they feared a headstrong “democratic mob” steering the country astray. And third, a populist president appealing directly to the people could command dangerous amounts of power.
Out of those drawn-out debates came a compromise based on the idea of electoral intermediaries. These intermediaries wouldn’t be picked by Congress or elected by the people. Instead, the states would each appoint independent “electors” who would cast the actual ballots for the presidency. Continue reading from History
After you cast your ballot for president, your vote goes to a statewide tally. In 48 states and Washington, D.C., the winner gets all the electoral votes for that state. Maine and Nebraska assign their electors using a proportional system.
A candidate needs the vote of at least 270 electors—more than half of all electors—to win the presidential election.
In most cases, a projected winner is announced on election night in November after you vote. But the actual Electoral College vote takes place in mid-December when the electors meet in their states. See the Electoral College timeline of events for the 2020 election.
While the Constitution doesn’t require electors to follow their state's popular vote, many states' laws do. Though it's rare, electors have challenged those laws and voted for someone else. But in July 2020 the Supreme Court ruled that those state laws are constitutional. Electors must follow their state's popular vote, if the state has passed such a law. Continue reading from USA GOV