Millions of Americans left polling places in November believing they had chosen the country's next leader, but they were wrong: the outcome of the presidential election is decided in December by the College of Electors. It's an unloved system.
The U.S. Constitution does not provide for the popular election of the president, so the November vote was indirect. In most states, whichever candidate receives a majority of the popular vote, or a plurality of the popular vote, takes all of the state's Electoral College votes.
Fault has been found from the start with the system, according to National Public Radio, because it is based on the anti-democratic concept that the people cannot or should not be trusted to vote directly for a national leader.
The system mattered, but changes nothing after the Nov 8 election: Democrat Hillary Clinton won 48 per cent of the popular vote to the 47 per cent won by Republican Donald Trump, but the Electoral College vote was 290-220 in her rival's favour because of the winner-takes-all-electors factor, a result that will give him their vote in December.
It also mattered in 2000 when Al Gore got 48.4 per cent of the popular vote to 47.9 per cent for George W. Bush (a margin of about 500,000 votes). After a struggle over the count in one state, Florida, that went all the way to the Supreme Court, Bush was declared the winner with 271 votes in the Electoral College -- one more than the minimum for a majority.
A tied vote in the Electoral College would complicate the system further. If the electors failed to produce a majority winner, the U.S. House of Representatives would choose the president.
Date written/update: 2016-11-13