The founding fathers - yes, they were all men - created what we call the Electoral College with Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution. It was a compromise between those who wanted a democratic election of the President and Vice President, that is voting by the people, and those who thought Congress should make the choice.
The Electoral College was created with the intent of providing election intermediaries. It might be said to be a combination of a direct vote by the people who pick representatives (called “electors”) who then do the actual voting for the President and Vice President.
270 is the critical number
The number of electors is 538--one each for the number of U.S. Senators (100) plus one each for the 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives. In 1961 the 23rd Amendment added three more electors, when the District of Columbia was awarded the same number of electors as the least populated state - currently 3. Hence the total of 538 electors (100 + 435 + 3 = 538).
Each state plus the District of Columbia actually has its own process that regulates the choice of electors who then, when the time comes, vote for the President and Vice President. As you might imagine, the fact that each state decides how to select its electors and if the electors are bound to vote the way the voters of the state voted, makes for nuance and even confusion.
You're not voting for a presidential candidate
The bottom line is that when you vote for a Presidential candidate you’re not technically voting for that candidate but for electors who are pledged to one degree or another to vote for that candidate in the Electoral College meeting which takes place in each of the separate fifty states on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (the 14th, this year).
Although Democracy Counts makes no attempt to audit the Electoral College, its audits of the elections at the state level on election day can have an impact by making sure the votes for those electors are accurately counted. Generally it's the count in the swing states that makes the decision.
Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash