Confused about how the United States elects its President? Asianet Newsable simplifies it for you
What is the process of electing a US President?
The US President and Vice President are not elected directly by the people. Instead, they are chosen by “electors” through a process called the “Electoral College”.
The election process of US President can be consolidated into five steps –
Step 1: Primaries and Caucuses,
Step 2: National Conventions,
Step 3: Election Campaigning,
Step 4: General Election, and
Step 5: Electoral College.
Step 1: Primaries and Caucuses (Party level elections in States)
Primaries and Caucuses
There may be many people who want to be the president of the United States of America. Each of these people may have their own ideas about how the US government should work. People with similar ideas usually align behind the same political party. But they need to win the favour of their party members first.
Candidates from each political party campaign throughout the country to win the favour of their party members.
Primaries and caucuses are methods that political parties use to select candidates for a general election.
Primary: A primary is a state-level election where party members vote for the best candidate that will represent them in the general election. Party candidates selected in a primary then run against each other in a general election. 34 U.S. states conduct primary elections.
There are several types of primaries in the U.S. system like Closed primary, Semi-closed primary, Open primary and Semi-open primary.
Caucus: A caucus is a local meeting where registered members of a political party in a city, town or county gather to vote for their preferred party candidate and conduct other party business. A caucus is a substitute for a primary election to select delegates to the national party convention. 16 states hold caucuses to determine political party candidates.
Step 2: National Conventions of Each Party
Once the primaries and caucuses are completed in each state, a national convention is held in which a party’s nomination for president is formally announced to the public. During the convention, the elected delegates cast their vote for a party candidate and the candidate with the most delegates gets the party’s nomination. The end of the convention marks the beginning of the general election process.
Each party holds a national convention to finalize the selection of one presidential nominee. At each convention, the presidential candidate chooses a running-mate (vice-presidential candidate).
Step 3: General Election Campaigning
General election campaigning begins after a single nominee is chosen from each political party, via primaries, caucuses, and national conventions.
These candidates travel the country, explaining their views and plans to the general population and trying to win the support of potential voters. Rallies, debates, and advertising are a big part of general election campaigning.
Step 4: General Election (Popular Vote)
Popular vote in US is usually held in November.
Many modern voters might be surprised to learn that when they step into a ballot box to select their candidate for president, they actually are casting a vote for fellow Americans called electors.
People in every state across the country vote for one president and one vice president. When people cast their vote, they are actually voting for a group of people known as electors.
The voters of each state, and the District of Columbia, vote for electors to be the authorized constitutional members in a presidential election. These voters form the electoral college.
An elector is a member of the electoral college. These electors, appointed by the states, are pledged to support the presidential candidate the voters have supported.
Even though the majority of people of the USA vote for a candidate, that does not mean that he/she will win the Presidential election. There are instances where a candidate who won the popular vote lost the election.
To win the election, a candidate needs to secure more than 270 electoral votes.
Step 5: Electoral College (Electors vote for the US President)
The US the president is elected by the institution called the Electoral College.
The Constitution only states that the candidate who receives majority of votes in the Electoral College becomes president. It says nothing about the popular vote.
The intent of the framers was to filter public opinion through a body composed of wiser, more experienced people; the framers did not want the president to be chosen directly by the people.
Each state gets a certain number of electors, based on each state’s total number of representation in Congress.
Each of the 50 US states and the capital Washington DC (a district which does not belong to any state) have a set number of electors which reflects their size. California is the most populated (over 38 million people) and has 55 electoral votes – more than any other. On the other hand, a state such as Montana, which is geographically large but has a relatively small population (just over one million people) – only has three electors.
Aside from Maine and Nebraska, if a candidate gets the most votes within a state they receive that state’s full quota of electoral college votes.
Each elector casts one electoral vote following the general election. There are a total of 538 electoral votes. The candidate that gets more than half (270) wins the election.
How did Trump become the US president despite losing the popular vote in 2016?
Though uncommon, it is possible to win the Electoral College, but lose the popular vote. That means that a candidate can win a combination of states and reach the 270 electors mark without winning the majority of votes across the country. This has happened five times in American elections – most recently in 2016 and 2000.
What happened in the 2000 elections?
In 2000, for the first time in 112 years, the eventual winner of the election, Republican George W. Bush (47.87% of voters), failed to win the popular vote lagging behind the Democratic nominee Al Gore who won over 48.38 % of voters (edging out Bush nationwide by about 550,000 votes).
The outcome of that election came down to Florida, which at the time had 25 electoral college votes and gave Bush a narrow electoral college win with 271 electors over Gore’s 266.
However, the contest was so close in the sunshine state that a mandatory recount was triggered. And with legal challenges being launched in several Florida counties the case was eventually decided by the Supreme court who handed the state, and therefore the Presidency, to Bush with a ruling 5-4 in favour of the Republican on December 12 of that year.
Why does the U.S have an Electoral College?
The short answer is the framers of the Constitution didn’t trust direct democracy and provided an extra layer to ensure, as James Madison put it, that “factions” of citizens with a common interest don’t harm the nation as a whole. However, the Electoral College has become a mere formality.
The Constitution doesn’t require electors to vote according to the popular vote of the people they represent. But it’s rare for an elector not to follow the people’s and their party’s choice. Although the actual vote of the Electoral College takes place in each state between mid-November and mid-December, in most cases, a projected winner can be announced on election night.
What happens if no candidate gets 270 electoral votes?
In the rare event that no candidate gets the needed 270 electoral votes, the decision would go to the House of Representatives, who would vote to elect the new President from among the top three candidates. A similar process would take place in the Senate to elect the Vice President from among the top two candidates. The only time this has happened was during the 1824 election when John Quincy Adams received the most votes in the House of Representatives after no candidate won majority of the Electoral College.
Elections are over. What’s next?
The president-elect and vice president-elect take the oath of office and are inaugurated in January.
Last Updated 2, Nov 2020, 12:14 PM