US Elections 2020: How does America elect its presidents? How is the result calculated?

3 weeks ago 10

The race for the 46th presidency of the United States of America is underway amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Final voting in the US presidential election began on November 3 with Republican Donald Trump and his vice president Mike Pence seeking a second consecutive term in office against the Democratic ticket- former vice president Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris. Voting began Tuesday afternoon (India time) and will continue till early tomorrow morning.

According to the US Elections Project by the University of Florida, 9.31 crore people had already cast their votes as of November 1. Some estimates put the voting-eligible population in the US at over 23.92 crore.

The NBC/Wall Street Journal poll dated November 1, puts Biden at least 10 points ahead of Trump while the Fox News poll dated October 27 has Biden leading by 8 points. In its latest poll dated October 23, CNN/SSRS put Joe Biden ahead by 12 points. Similarly, the IPSOS/Reuters poll dated October 23 also had Biden leading with 10 points.

It is important to note, however, that the November 3 election will ultimately be decided by the Electoral College comprising voting results from 50 American states.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the third and final presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee on October 22 (Photo Credits: PTI)

Experts have also pointed out the possibility that polls and initial counting on Election Day may not be able to project a clear victory or loss. A primary reason for the same is the expectation that a majority of Democrat voters are opting for 'mail-in ballots' (voting by postal mail) as opposed to Republican voters, most of whom are likely to cast their ballot physically come November 3.

Since the counting of postal ballots is a tedious process, there is a good possibility that we might have to wait for a few days, even weeks for the results of the 2020 US Presidential election.

To be elected the president in the US' two-party system, a candidate must meet three requirements- natural-born US citizen, at least 35 years of age, and a US resident for at least 14 years.

Here is a glimpse at the process that will ultimately result in the election of the next President of the United States of America.

The US Presidential election process can broadly be divided into four parts:

1. Primaries and caucuses

Each of the 50 US states has its own Democrat and Republican leaders. In some states, this leadership is represented by groups known as a 'caucus'. At the time of the declaration of the next presidential election, candidates who wish to put their hat in the ring must first win their party's nomination.

For this purpose, the candidates are required to campaign across the United States and convince the members of their respective party to vote for them in the primaries (contest to decide who wins the nomination). State party members who vote in favour of a particular candidate are counted as that candidate's delegates.

2. National Conventions

Once the candidates have secured the support of delegates or caucuses, both the Republican and Democratic parties hold separate national conventions to select a final presidential nominee.

To put this in perspective, Joe Biden faced off against at least 30 odd Democrats to win the nomination with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the race to finally give way to the 77-year-old who served as the vice president to Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017.

Biden chose junior senator from California, Kamala Harris to be his running-mate (vice-president) during the Democratic National Convention held at Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee between August 17 and 20.

3. General Election

Eligible voters from all 50 states vote for a president and vice president. It is important to note that votes are being cast here for 538 electors (important number) and not the presidential/vice-presidential candidates directly.

These electors are representatives either of the Republican or the Democratic party. Each state is assigned a certain number of such electoral votes depending upon the population of that state. This number is revised as per the US census conducted every 10 years. The elector of whichever party gets the majority vote in his/her respective state is then empowered to vote for a presidential and vice-presidential candidate.

4. Electoral College

The 538-strong Electoral College is represented by members of Congress (435 members of House of Representatives, 100 senators, and three electors from Washington DC).

In simple words, the American people vote for 538 electors who then choose a president and vice-president. The candidate of whichever party gets the support of at least 270 of these 538 electors wins the presidency. On the other hand, the 435 electors who secure the most votes in their respective states are elected to the House of Representatives.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (left) and Donald Trump and Mike Pence (right) (Photo Credits: AP)

What are battleground states?

The Electoral College has historically given one-sided results. This essentially means that most of the 50 US states are either 'red' (Republican) or 'blue' (Democratic). Another way of simplifying this system is 'winner takes all' which means that if Democrats win the support of a majority of electors from a particular state, all of the state's electoral votes are transferred to the Democratic presidential candidate.

States, where both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates have equal chances of winning the majority of electoral votes (electors), are referred to as battleground states.

In 48 states and DC, the candidate who wins the most votes secures the candidacy from that state with Maine and Nebraska being the only exception to this rule.

What is the popular vote?

Two US presidential elections in the recent past have stoked a debate about the 'popular vote'. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore who was vice president to the then-president Bill Clinton lost out to Republican George W Bush despite getting more votes from across all 50 states. This loss was credited to Bush's Electoral College win where he managed to get closer to the magic number of 270 than Gore.

For 47 years, Sleepy Joe Biden betrayed Hispanic-Americans. Now he wants to close your small businesses, eliminate school choice, and attack our Hispanic Law Enforcement Heroes. I will always stand with the incredible Hispanic-American community! pic.twitter.com/4KMnlRkg7c

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 2, 2020

The most recent example of such an event where a candidate is elected president despite having lost out the popular vote (most number of votes from American voters) was seen in 2016. Democrat Hillary Clinton managed to secure at least three million more votes than Republican Donald Trump but lost the presidency to him owing to his majority among the Electoral College.

American Congress and its role

Similar to the Indian Parliamentary system, the US Congress is made up of two houses- House of Representatives and the Senate. Come November 3, voters from across 50 states will also vote to elect members to Congress.

These elected members of Congress will then be responsible for electing a president and a vice-president.

It is important to note that Members of the House serve two-year terms while a senator's term lasts for six years.

Fired up! pic.twitter.com/fqFCBvwudr

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 1, 2020

Members of the senate, however, are split into three groups and a third of them along with all members of the House face elections every two years also known as the midterms.

At present, the Democrats have a majority in the House and the Republicans hold the Senate.

In the event that neither Donald Trump nor his contender Joe Biden are able to secure at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the decision to appoint the president rests with the House of Representatives with each of the 50 states getting a single vote. Similarly, the senate then appoints a vice-president using the same procedure.

Similarly, any legal cases pertaining to the electoral votes or general votes from any of the states that could dictate the fate of this election will be heard by the US Supreme Court.

In conclusion:

All said and done, the crucial nature of this US presidential election is no laughing matter since it would ultimately have a significant role in a post-coronavirus world.

Whether Biden, like one of his most formidable Democrat predecessors, can 'Give 'em hell like Truman' or whether Trump can manage to crack the combination of electoral votes while bypassing the popular vote like in 2016, is yet to be seen.

At this time, the words of former US president John F Kennedy ring true more than ever, "Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."

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