• Isabelle Osborne

The Presidential Election: everything you need to know

With the US Presidential Election just months away, below are the things you need to know to understand the entire process.

How does the US Political System work?

The Two Houses

The House of Representatives:

  • Designed to give a voice to all members of each local voting region of the country.

  • Representatives stand for re-election every two years.

  • Each state is split into districts (this is dependent on each state), and each district votes for one representative. California, for example, is split into 53 districts, so has 53 representatives. Alaska, on the other hand, only has one district, and so only has one representative.

  • The House works under the First Past the Post system, meaning the candidate with the most votes in each district wins a seat in the House.

  • The Party which has the most votes in the House takes control. Presidential candidates would ideally have their party in control of the House, but as mid-term elections are held held way through a president's term, this isn't always the case, as the public can vote in more members of the opposition party should the president be doing a poor job.

The Senate:

  • Like the House of Lords in the UK, the Senate is responsible for scrutinising proposals made by the House of Representatives and the president, before deciding whether it should become a law.

  • Senators are elected by the public, serving six year terms.

  • The elections are staggered, meaning every two years one third of senators will stand for re-election.

  • Each state is represented by two senators, regardless of state population.

  • The Senate works under the First Past the Post system, meaning the two candidates with the most votes in each state wins a seat in the Senate.

The President

  • The president is in charge of both the State and the Government; this contrasts with the UK system, whereby the Prime Minister is in charge of the Government alone, and the monarch is in charge of the State.

  • One candidate runs for each party, and the candidate choses their own vice-president to help support the campaign. Together, they are known as a 'Ticket'.

  • Huge election campaigns aim to gain support for the candidates from all over the country, setting out their policies through campaign rallies.

  • Campaigns cost a lot of money, and campaign teams help raise the thousands of dollars needed to fund the campaign.

The Electoral College

  • On election day, voters cast their vote for one 'presidential ticket'.

  • However, the public do not directly vote for their choice of president; when a US citizen votes, they are voting for the representatives in the Electoral College from their state, who will then vote for the next president.

  • Each state is allocated a number of Electors, who make the choice. A state has the same number of Electors as it does Senators and Representatives.

  • In most cases, the Electors will vote for the 'presidential ticket' who received the most votes in the public vote.However, the national vote and the College don't always agree, and this has happened four times in US history.

  • If a candidate wins over 270 electoral votes, they win the election.

  • If there is a tie in the College, meaning both candidates end up with 269 electoral votes each, Congress decides who becomes president.

Who can run for president?

There are 3 major qualifications all presidential candidates must fit:

  1. Candidates must be a 'natural born', meaning they must have been born in the United States (the Constitution does to define what a 'natural born' citizen actually is, however a congressional research service report carried out in 2011 clarified that if you are automatically granted US citizenship at birth, you can run).

  2. Candidates must be thirty-five years old or older.

  3. Candidates must have been a permanent resident of the USA for fourteen years.

There are also situations where a candidate's eligibility may be affected:

  • If a candidate has been impeached, the Senate can prevent them from being president.

  • If a candidate has engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the USA after swearing an oath to the constitution, they cannot hold presidential office. However, this can be over turned by a two thirds vote from the Congress.

What happens post-election?

  • A new president must be sworn in. This happens in January of the following year.

  • The presidential inauguration takes place at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol Building, and is administered by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • The Vice President is sworn in first, followed by the President.

The US Presidential Election will take place on Tuesday 3rd November 2020.

Featured image courtesy of Renan Kamikoga on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.