The electoral college is the system used to elect the President in the United States of America. It is not a uniquely American system, and has been implemented in different forms throughout history, although most of these forms of the electoral college did not appear quite as the American system does. The defining characteristics of any given electoral college are that it is made up of electors who have been selected through some process in order to determine who should hold a given office.
This means that any system which uses the whole, popular vote is inherently not an electoral college system, as the members of the electoral college must have been selected specially for the electoral college. In America, the electoral college functions to detach American voters from directly electing the President.
Instead of electing the President through a direct vote, American citizens actually elect electors to the electoral college. The electoral college then would elect the President based on the voting of the electors.
American citizens vote for electors who will vote as they desire in the electoral college. In other words, if an American citizen would like to elect candidate John A., then he or she will vote for an elector who has pledged to vote for John A. But the elector does not absolutely have to vote for John A. An elector who does not vote for the candidate he or she pledged to vote for would be considered a faithless elector.
There is no outright mechanism in an electoral college for punishing a faithless elector, as part of the very nature of the electoral college system is that a faithless elector is a possibility. Some political parties may have censures they can invoke against a faithless elector, and some states have instituted laws so as to penalize faithless electors, as those electors will have made a pledge, and can be held accountable for breaking that pledge.
But the electoral college system in and of itself allows for faithless electors, as the electors are not bound by the votes of those who voted for them. Electors are allowed to make their own choice in the electoral college voting process.