Election for Dummies: How the United States Elects President

The US presidential election will be held on November 3. Incumbent President Donald Trump (74) is running for Republican re-election, with Mike Pence (61) running for vice president.

The challenger is Democrat Joe Biden (77), who is running with Kamala Harris (55) as his vice presidential candidate.

VICE PRESIDENT CANDIDATES: Kamala Harris (55) and Mike Pence (61). Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

But the president of the United States is not directly elected by the people.

Electors

The President of the United States is elected by a college of electors, consisting of 538 electors. There are as many as the number of representatives in the House of Representatives (438) and the Senate (100) combined.

The US voters thus give their votes to the voters, who have made it clear in advance which candidate they support, and then the voters in turn vote for the president.

– Even if voters are elected, it is the votes that decide, says US commentator Eirik Bergersen.

The voters must in principle vote for the candidate who receives the most support among the voters in the state to which they belong.

The states have different numbers of voters, based on size. California, the most populous state, has 55 voters. The smallest states, as well as the capital Washington DC, have only three.

The magic number in the Electoral College is 270. That is half of the electorate, plus one – that is, the majority needed to become President of the United States.

Due to the electoral system, the candidate who gets the most votes from the people can still lose the election. This has happened five times in American election history, most recently with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

2016: Hillary Clinton pictured during her speech in which she acknowledges the defeat of Trump.  Despite receiving more votes nationally, she lost the presidential election.

2016: Hillary Clinton pictured during her speech in which she acknowledges the defeat of Trump. Despite receiving more votes nationally, she lost the presidential election. Photo: Jewel Samad / AFP Photo / NTB

The winner takes everything

The candidate who gets the most votes gets all the voters. This is the case in all US states, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which operate with proportional representation and distribute voters based on support.

Few votes can thus make a big difference in the election result.

It was well seen, for example Florida during the 2012 election. After counting the votes for several days after the election, Barack Obama was declared the winner in the state with 50 percent of the vote.

Opponent Mitt Romney, who had a support of 49.1 percent, thus got none of Florida’s 29 voters. There were 74,000 votes that separated the two candidates.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS: Barack Obama took the victory over Mitt Romney in 2012, but by a narrow margin.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS: Barack Obama took the victory over Mitt Romney in 2012, but by a narrow margin. Photo: M. Spencer Green / AP Photo / NTB

Tilting states

In most US states, the result is given in advance. The battle for the presidency is thus in a handful of states where there is equality between the candidates, such as in Florida. It is the results in these states that tip the election outcome in Trump’s or Biden’s favor.

Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona are considered the most important swing states this year.

ROCK STATES: The battle for the presidency is in a few states, where both candidates have a chance to win.

ROCK STATES: The battle for the presidency is in a few states, where both candidates have a chance to win. Photo: Reuters / ALEXANDER DRAGO

Which states are swing states can change over time. Changes in the composition of the population will, for example, affect which candidate is strongest.

Texas and Arizona are two states that are about to change, according to Bergersen.

– In ten years, it is estimated that these states will be lost to the Republicans, because then there will be such a large multiethnic population there, he says.

Post votes

Around one in four voters usually cast their ballots by post, but as a result of the corona pandemic, this year it is expected that up to three out of four voters will do so.

The possibility that it will take a long time to count the enormous number of postal votes has led to political unrest and legal proceedings.

DISPUTES FOR POST VOTES: A resident of Mason, Michigan, clearly expresses his views on postal votes by having this exhibit in his yard.

DISPUTES FOR POST VOTES: A resident of Mason, Michigan, clearly expresses his views on postal votes by having this exhibit in his yard. Photo: AP / Matthew Dae Smith

Donald Trump has on several occasions claimed that postal voting will lead to large-scale election fraud, without being able to prove the allegations.

– It is not difficult to believe that Trump’s opposition is related to the fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans who choose to vote by post. There will probably be chaos, and it will take time. But we are in the middle of a pandemic, and there is no basis for saying that postal voting leads to cheating, says Bergersen.

Several states have expressed concern that delays could lead to voters not receiving ballot papers or registration papers in time. The postal service has also warned that ballot papers may be delayed.

Not just presidential elections

All 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 35 of the 100 seats in the Senate are also up for election.

Today, Republicans have a majority in the Senate, while Democrats have a majority in the House of Representatives.

– The Democrats are well placed in the polls and now have an opportunity to win the Senate and get a majority in the entire Congress, Bergersen says.

The composition of Congress has a major impact on the president’s political impact.

– If Joe Biden wins and the Democrats also get a majority in Congress, they will be able to get through a number of issues. They will then probably try to get through some major societal reforms, says Bergersen.

Are you wondering more? Her You will find a super simple guide to the words and phrases used about American politics.

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