By Brian Sealey
Arguably the most important event in the United States will happen on November 3rd of this year. I am, of course, speaking about the 2020 Presidential Election. Regardless if you know anything about incumbent President Donald Trump or challenger Joe Biden, understanding how a president is chosen during the election can be a bit challenging as in several cases throughout the history of the U.S. the winner didn’t win the popular vote. Before we can understand why this is so, we must start at the beginning of the process and work away forward to election day.
Who can run for President
According to the United States constitution, any citizen born in the U.S. who is 35 years or older can run for President of the United States. The youngest person to be President was John F Kennedy, who was 43 when he was elected.
Campaigning for the Primaries
Candidates will usually declare their intention to run during the year before the election. After announcing their run, candidates will spend their time during the year campaigning for the primary elections. The Primaries decide who will represent the two major political parties (the conservative Republican Party and the liberal Democratic Party.) Typically speaking, if the current President runs for reelection for a second term, their party will not hold primaries unless there are serious challengers for the seat.
Candidates campaign in a variety of ways including raising money through donations to fund their campaign from supporters and traveling around the country to meet with various voters to build support for their candidacy.
One key thing to keep in mind is that only voters who are registered under the party holding the Primaries can vote; this means that no registered republicans or independent voters could vote in the Democratic primaries. In addition, there are special voters known as delegates whose votes are vital to securing the nomination. Delegates are chosen from within the political party to represent it.
Traditionally speaking, the Primaries begin with the Iowa Caucus in February of the election year. A Caucus is a meeting among party members for a specific state or ethnic group within a political party who work to coordinate the voting towards one particular political candidate. There are several Caucuses throughout the U.S. during the primary outside of Iowa, including the Texas, Nevada, and Colorado caucuses, while other states, including Florida hold primary elections instead. Most voters attend an event and cast their votes while primary elections are held at various locations for party members to vote.
While victory in the popular vote within a caucus or state primary is a strong indicator for a candidate’s success, it does not mean the winner will become the candidate in these contests.
The Conventions and National Election Campaigns
Once the Primaries finish, both parties will hold national conventions to confirm the nomination of their candidate. These conventions are usually massive events that are televised and typically take place over the course of 3-4 days at least 3 months before the national election. This event will usually feature many prominent speakers, including former presidents from the party who will give speeches.
Finally, we arrive at the big moment: election day. Traditionally, the election is held on the first or sometimes second Tuesday of November; this year it will be held on November 3rd. On this day, all registered voters may cast their votes for any candidate on the ballot (they may write in a name) at a variety of locations throughout their assigned region. They may also cast their vote through the mail if they are not living in the U.S. at the time or if they have a legitimate reason, such as a medical condition for not being able to submit their vote in person. There are also early elections to allow people more time to cast their vote. When a person arrives to the event, they will need to present a form of identification to receive their ballot.
As noted at the beginning of the article, winning the popular vote is not enough to win the presidency. In addition, the candidate must also win the majority of votes from electors within the Electoral College. Like delegates during the primaries, the Electoral College consists of a body of electors and was originally designed to prevent the most populated states from deciding elections. There are 538 electors, and to win the presidency, a candidate must receive a majority of half or at least 270. The number of electoral votes is determined by the population of the State; Alaska has 3 votes while Florida has 29 votes. California currently has the most electoral votes with 55.
The Electoral College is more than a bit controversial in American politics and many critics have called for it to be removed. This is because as a general rule, the candidate who wins the popular vote within a state receives all the electoral votes (this is different from the delegates during the Primaries which are split among all candidates who receive 15% or more of the vote within a state.) For instance, if Candidate A wins the popular vote in California, they would receive all 55 votes. This is how Presidents such as Donald Trump managed to win the election. Although Hilary Clinton won nationally in the popular vote, Donald Trump managed to earn more electoral votes. As an illustration, observe the following map of electoral votes from the 2016 below and the graph of the popular vote.
After the Election
Once the next president has been confirmed, they will be sworn into office usually in the middle of January of the year for the world to see. In the case of the 2020 election, the next president will be sworn in on January 21st, 2021. They will then serve for the next 4 years and may seek reelection for one additional term for a total of 8 years within their lifetime. The President can also be impeached if found guilty of any particular crimes; however, this is a long and drawn process that takes a protracted period of time with many steps and challenges along the way.
The road to the U.S. Presidential election is an interesting, but fairly confusing process to anyone who is watching including Americans themselves. Hopefully after reading this, the process seems a bit clearer. For more information, please visit the following information from reputable sources below.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LY8L6C7tsx8 (A recent explanation video from BBC.com about the 2020 campaign)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W9H3gvnN468 (TED-ED: Does your vote count? The Electoral College Explained)