Does your vote for president really count?

As I watched the political dog and pony show on TV - you know, the one leading up to the presidential preference election on Super Tuesday - I got to thinking back on my college history and government classes.

I remembered something about the popular vote being almost meaningless because our Founders created this political machine called the Electoral College.

So I got online and did a little research. Here's what I found at usgovinfo.about.com. Most of this is straight from that Web site:

Every fourth November, after almost two years of campaign hype and lots of money spent on campaign advertising, more than 90 million Americans vote for the next president of the United States of America. But do your votes really count?

A few short weeks after the public presidential election, in the middle of December, the president and vice president of the United States are actually elected by the votes of only 538 citizens - the electors of the Electoral College.

According to the Web site at usgovinfo.about.com, the Electoral College system was established in Article II of the Constitution and amended by the 12th Amendment in 1804 because the Founders feared the popular vote. Now there are many critics who believe the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished.

I'm one of them.

Read on and you decide whether the Electoral College should stay or go.

When you vote for a presidential candidate, you are really voting to instruct the electors from your state to cast their votes for that same candidate.

For example, if you vote for the Republican candidate, you are really voting for an elector who will be "pledged" to vote for the Republican candidate. Ideally, the candidate who wins the popular vote in a state wins all the pledged votes of the state's electors.

While the state electors pledge to vote for the candidate of the party that chose them, nothing in the Constitution requires them to do so.

In rare instances, an elector will defect and not vote for his or her party's candidate. Such "faithless" elector votes rarely change the outcome of the election, and laws of some states prohibit electors from casting faithless votes.

Since Electoral College representation is based on congressional representation, states with larger populations get more Electoral College votes.

Each state gets a number of electors equal to its number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives, plus one for each of its two U.S. Senators. The District of Columbia gets three electors. While state laws determine how electors are chosen, they generally are selected by the political party committees within the individual states.

Each elector gets one vote. Thus, a state with eight electors would cast eight votes. There are now 538 electors and the votes of a majority of them - 270 - are required to be elected.

Arizona has 10 electors.

A look at the electoral votes from each state and a little math will tell you that the Electoral College system makes it possible for a candidate to actually lose the nationwide popular vote but still be elected president by the Electoral College.

In fact, it is possible for a candidate to not get a single person's vote - not one - in 39 states or the District of Columbia, yet still be elected president by winning the Electoral College vote in just 11 of these 12 states: California, New York, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia.

Has a presidential candidate ever lost the nationwide popular vote but been elected president in the Electoral College?

Yes, three times:

• In 1876, there were a total of 369 electoral votes available with 185 needed to win. Republican Rutherford B. Hayes received 4,036,298 popular votes and 185 electoral votes. His main opponent, Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, won the popular vote with 4,300,590 votes but received only 184 electoral votes. Hayes was elected president.

• In 1888 there were a total of 401 electoral votes available with 201 needed to win. Republican Benjamin Harrison, with 5,439,853 popular votes, won 233 electoral votes. His main opponent, Democrat Grover Cleveland, won the popular vote with 5,540,309 votes but received only 168 electoral votes. Harrison was elected president.

• In 2000 there were a total of 538 electoral votes available with 270 needed to win. Republican George W. Bush, with 50,456,002 popular votes, won 271 electoral votes. His Democratic opponent, Al Gore, won the popular vote with 50,999,897 votes but won only 266 electoral votes. Bush was elected president.