In the United States, citizens vote for "electors" who, in turn, vote for the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. The body that votes for the positions is the Electoral College. The electors vote in groups at the state level, so they actually never really meet as a body.
The magic number: 270 votes is the majority needed to win the Presidency. There are 538 college members.
How it works. Each state gets college members according to how many Representatives it has in Congress and how many senators it has.
The House of Representatives, which has 435 members, is based on a rep-by-pop system, much like Canada's federal members of Parliament. So states with more population get more seats. Members of the House face elections every two years.
The Senate, on the other hand, has 100 members, two for each state, regardless of the size of the state.
The Electoral College has a total of 538 votes (435 from the Congress, 100 from the Senate and three from the District of Columbia, which has no voting representative in the Congress.)
Voting: On the Monday after the second Wednesday in December (Dec,. 15, 2004) the electors meet in their states to vote for the President and Vice-President.
On Jan. 6, the Senate and the House of Representatives jointly meet to count the votes.
Who are members: Usually affiliated with the parties, the members can not be a member of congress or an employee of the federal government.
First past the post: In most states, the candidate who gets the most votes wins all the state's electoral votes.
Tie: Splitting up the states, there is a small likelihood of a tie of 269-269. If no party successfully lobbies for an elector to change his or her vote, courting a faithless electors.
Rules for President in a tie: If there is a tie, the vote for the President goes to the House of Representatives. Each state delegation, regardless of population, gets one vote. If they are divided, then they must abstain from voting. The Republications have a decided advantage as they control more delegations. The representatives can choose between the top three candidates and an absolute majority is needed.
Rules for Vice-President in a tie: In a tie, the senate votes for Vice-President. So if the Democrats pick up enough votes to vote in John Edwards as the Vice-President. If the senate vote were tied, would Dick Cheney be able to cast a tie-breaking vote?
Faithless elector: Some electors in the past have voted for another candidates -- contrary to the wishes of the citizens who vote for the elector. In 2000, Barbara Lett-Simmons, who was a D.C. elector for Al Gore, cast blank ballot. Some states have attempted to bind the electors by various methods, including asking them to swear an oath or pledge under penalty of law. The Supreme Court ruled in 1952 (Ray v. Blai), that the states may let parties require electors to vote for their candidate.
The college votes, by state