US Elections: How Do They Work?

As the counting for the US Elections continues, let us look at how the country’s electoral system works, including the now famous term “electoral college”.

Crux of the Matter

Presidential Elections
Presidential elections occur in the US every 4 years. President is both the ‘Head of State’ and the ‘Head of Government’ in the US. The new President would be officially sworn in on 20 January 2021.

Even though having several parties, the major 2 parties in the US are:

  • The Republican Party (conservative).
  • The Democratic Party (liberal).

Simultaneously Going
Elections are also going for:

  • All seats of The House of Representatives.
  • 33% seats of The Senate.
  • Proposed laws.

Ballot paper in the current election may ask one to vote for, besides President:

  • Representative
  • Senator
  • Judge
  • Proposed laws and policies, etc.

Voters approved legalization of “recreational marijuana” in Arizona and New Jersey, and approved both recreational and medical use in South Dakota (as per CNN). Oregon became the 1st state to “decriminalize” possession of hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, LSD).

US Congress Constitution
The US Congress is formed by:

  • The House of Representatives (Lower House).
  • The Senate (Upper House).

Both the Houses are similar to the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha (RS) respectively. Difference: Senate members are elected directly while the RS members elected by ‘State Legislative Assemblies’.

  • Number of Representatives per state: According to its population.
    Elections for all seats of the House of Representatives occur every 2 years.
  • Number of Senators per state: 2 (independent of population). Senate members are elected for 6 years, with elections on 33% seats occurring every 2 years.

Electoral College
US voters vote for electors appointed by parties, which have promised to vote for the particular candidate.

  • Total electoral college votes: 538
    270 or more required to win for the President.
  • Number of electoral votes per state = Number of Representatives + Number of Senators (2 for all states).

‘Winner Takes All’ System
Example of state X with 50 electoral votes.

  • Party A wins 52% votes.
  • Party B wins 48% votes.

Result: Party A wins all 50 electoral votes.

The system is followed in all states except Maine (4 electoral votes) and Nebraska (5 electoral votes). These 2 states provide 2 votes for the popular vote in the state, and provide 1 for popular vote in “each congressional district”.

Popular Vote
Electoral College is the opposite of the popular vote, which basically is the votes received by a candidate across the country. Interestingly, a candidate may overall have more total votes (popular vote) and still lose. It occurred in 2016 when Hillary Clinton got 3 million more votes than Trump overall but lost in the electoral votes.

Swing States
Swing states are also known as ‘battlegrounds’ or ‘purple states’. These states have voted for both Republicans and Democrats in different elections, with both parties having strong support here.

38 states have voted for the same party in 5 presidential elections between 2000 and 2016. The remaining 12 states have changed their votes. The Swing states for 2020 include Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, etc.

Read More: Trump, Biden And Media Partisanship

  • George Washington was the first and only US President who won the elections, running as an independent.
  • Libertarian Party, with Libertarianism ideology, is the 3rd biggest Party in the US. Jo Jorgensen is the 2020 Presidential nominee for the Party
  • Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for President in 1872 while Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party ticket in 2016
  • John Quincy Adams, Rutherford B, Benjamin Harrison, George Bush. and Donald Trump are the 5 Presidents who lost the Popular Vote but got more electoral votes than their contenders