The 411 on the Electoral College

We may know the next president of the United States, but it's not quite official just yet.

Members of the Electoral College cast their votes earlier this month based on how their states voted in November.

Western Illinois University political science professor Dr. Rick Hardy served as a member of the electoral college in Missouri during the 2004 presidential election. But the position didn't come easily.

"Anybody who wants to be a presidential elector has to do their homework," Hardy said. "They have to figure out the rules. They have to figure out what you have to do, where you have to go and how many people you need to support you, and then you have to work the system."

Each state gets electors equal to the number of senators and representatives they have. The United States has 538 electoral votes -- 270 of which are needed to win the presidency. Electors across the country cast their votes in their respective state capitols on December 17th - the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December. The president of the senate, also known as the vice president, will open those votes in front of Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 6th.

"We all know that Barack Obama has been re-elected, but there's always a possibility, it's a very remote possibility, that the elector can change his or her mind and switch their votes," Hardy said. "It's unlikely since you're selected by your political parties, but it is a possibility, and we've had several occasions where that's occurred here and there, most notably in 1948, when some democratic delegates switched and voted for Strom Thurmond."

Hardy said there is no penalty for electors switching their votes, other than getting outcast by their respective political party.

"If your vote counts, then every vote should count the same," he said. "Not some votes count more than others. So I think even though I'm a member of the Electoral College or was, I think ultimately we should probably go with the popular vote. That's a controversial statement, I know, but I think that ultimately would be the fair thing to do."

Illinois gets 20 electoral votes, while Missouri and Iowa get 10 and six respectively.