While the Electoral College has the ultimate say in choosing Democrat Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney, the exercise is largely academic.
Members of the Electoral College, known as electors, meet in state capitols or other designated spots in mid-December. Each party has slates of electors, but the one aligned with the winner of that state's popular vote is empowered to cast separate ballots for president and vice president.
It is typically uneventful, but there have been instances of "faithless" electors where a ballot is cast for someone other than that state's prevailing nominees. The ballots are sent to Washington to be formally counted in the Senate on Jan. 6, though the results are usually known the day the electors meet.
Had Obama not amassed the needed 270 votes for electoral votes or had he and Romney finished the Electoral College process tied 269-269, the 12th Amendment would have come into play. Under that scenario, the newly sworn House elects the president and the Senate the vice president.
Each House delegation gets a single vote. Since Republicans retained a majority of state delegations in Tuesday's contests, there could have been intrigue in the unlikely event that several delegations split evenly. With the Senate remaining in Democratic hands, a Republican president serving with a Democratic vice president was possible.
Among the most notable elections was 1824, when Democratic-Republican candidate John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote and was behind in the Electoral College tally but still was chosen as president by the House.
Inauguration day is Jan. 20.