The United States is not a democracy. It wasn't designed to be. It is a constitutional republic. The only people allowed to vote at our nation's founding where white land-owning men, and even they did not vote directly for president. The Electoral College is a group of 538 members from every state who actually vote for president. Your vote is for one of them. The amount of electoral votes a state has is equal to their number of representatives plus two for the Senate. Small states get a minimum of three. These electors are chosen by state parties in a variety of ways. They're usually long-term prominent members of the party, i.e. Hillary Clinton will be an elector for the state of New York this year.
Why Do We Have the Electoral College?
You might've heard it's so smaller states aren't overpowered by larger ones, as far as population goes. Which doesn't make sense, because the number of electoral votes is literally based on population, so it does make more populous states more important. No, there is one simple reason the Founding Fathers conceived of this idea: they feared the common man directly electing the President. The idea was to have a group of people (white men, originally) from each state who would meet and analyze the candidates and vote for whomever they thought was best. That's right, electors were not originally beholden to the vote in their state, and that was expressly not the intent behind them.
Making electors beholden to the popular vote of the state became a thing throughout the 1800s, and now there are many states with laws against "faithless electors". The original purpose of the Electoral College is dead, so why are we still using it? Inertia.
Currently, 48 out of 50 states have a winner-take-all system, where the winner of the state popular vote gets all the electoral votes of that state. Maine and Nebraska use the congressional system, where each district votes according to the winner there, and then two are awarded to the statewide popular vote. That's how you end up with an almost 50/50 split in Texas, but Trump getting all 38 of their votes. That's how Pennsylvania won the election for Biden just now. But why should the entire country care about how Pennsylvania votes?
The 12th Amendment
This early amendment, ratified by the states in 1804, altered how the president and vice-president are elected. Before this amendment, the runner-up for president became vice president; political parties weren't supposed to exist. So, the electors cast a vote for president and vice president. Importantly, it establishes what happens if there is no clear winner: the House elects the president, the Senate elects the vice president. The House election would be done by state delegations, rendering Wyoming as important as California. This would also mean whichever party controls the most states wins the presidency, meaning the popular vote wouldn't matter.
Why the Electoral College is Unfair
If you've read my post about the House of Representatives (one of my first), you'll recall that the House was frozen in size in the early 20th century, so it's no longer representative as intended. But let's go with an easy example: California has 55 electoral votes, the most as it's the most populous state. There's 40 million people in California. That's 727,272 people per actual vote for president. Wyoming has a population of about 580,000 with three electoral votes. That's 193,333 people per vote. So your individual vote for president matters a lot more in Wyoming, a state that is mostly empty land, than it does in California.
So What Can We Do?
Getting rid of the Electoral College would require a constitutional amendment, and seeing as the last two times it has failed (electing someone who lost the the national popular vote) resulted in Republican victories, this is a non-starter. Incidentally, there was broad support for moving to a popular vote from Republicans until 2016, when Trump lost by 3 million votes but won the Electoral College.
There's a simpler option: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This is a pledge for states to sign, promising to vote for the winner of the national popular vote regardless of the vote in their state. If enough states sign on, the Electoral College would still be in place, but it would be completely moot. So far, 15 states and DC, representing 196 electoral votes, have signed on. It will only come into force when enough states to elect a president have signed on.
There's also the option of reform. Each state could adopt the system Maine and Nebraska have. One vote per congressional district and then two go to the winner of the statewide popular vote. That runs into the issue of gerrymandering, however, and political gerrymandering is currently legal. I think they could just award them directly proportionate to the popular vote percentage, and for odd numbers, give the extra to the winner.
Personally, I'd love to see it abolished, but that not happening. The interstate compact is our best bet.