How does the US Presidential election work?

Image source: Pixabay

The US democratic system is quite different from how we vote over here in the UK. Across the pond, they also employ a first past the post system but it is all together very different to the UK. Here’s how the Electoral College works.

How the USA works

The United States Congress has two houses, the House of Representatives and the Senate. There are elections for both of these houses unlike in the UK when votes are cast for just one, the House of Commons. Then there is a third election. This is when the president is chosen.  In the UK the Queen is the Head of State while the Prime Minister is the Head of the Government. Donald Trump acts as both.

What does the House of Representatives do?

Even when a president is in office, the House of Representatives isn’t necessarily all Republican or all Democrat. There are mid-term elections every two years, so if the public don’t think agree with the current president they can choose to vote for more representation from the opposing party, to act against them and prevent the President from passing laws.

What does the Senate do?

The Senate is similar to the House of Lords. Its members are tasked with analyzing the rules and regulations both the House of Representatives and the President want to pass.  They vote to pass laws but unlike the House of Lords, they are elected members of government.

What even is a swing state?

The presidential elections take place every four years and those over 18 years of age can vote. Both parties choose a candidate to represent the party. The candidate then chooses a running mate who would become Vice-President if the campaign is successful. The winner is chosen by how many electors (people who are supporting the candidate they want to become president) win and not how many votes in total.  Swing states are created when both the Democrats and the Republicans have similar support levels. Whoever wins the swing states on election day, will go a long way to deciding the election.  The candidate with the most votes in the state becomes the state’s chosen candidate.  Pretty simple right? No, because each state is different.

States with a higher population like California have more influence on the election than more sparsely populated states like Alaska. States are divided up into congressional districts based on population. So a higher population results in more districts and more influence on the election. When a candidate wins a state, they win that number of electors. This makes the bigger states more important swing states. The winner takes it all and this is the same in the US election where whoever gets the most votes in an elector, gets all the votes in the elector.

Election day

The American public doesn’t vote directly for their choice of president. Each state is given a number of electors who vote for the president and vice-president as a combined team or ‘ticket’. There are a total of 538 electors in the USA and a presidential candidate needs to win 270 electors for a majority.

If you still can’t get to grips with the system, here’s a cool infographic that explains the whole process visually.

How US Presidential elections work

Click to expand

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