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US votes: The American electoral system explained


Americans head to the poll on Tuesday November 8 to elect the country’s 45th president.

The race leading up to election day has been acrimonious, strange and anything but what America is noted for.

Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton is hoping to become not only the 45th president of the USA but also its first female president while her Republican opponent, Donald Trump is hoping to be the first president who is not a politician.

But how does the American electoral system work?

It all begins with the primary elections for the parties and then moves on to the nominating conventions at which stage the parties each select a nominee to support for the presidential race. The nominee in turn announces a Vice Presidential candidate.

When the polls are opened, voters technically vote for electors, a group of officials who constitute what is known as the Electoral College.

The idea of using electors is from the American constitution as the nation’s founding fathers saw it as a compromise between electing the president by a popular vote among citizens and electing the president in Congress.

Each state in the USA has a number of electors in the electoral college which is determined by the size of its population. For instance, California which is the most populous state in the US, has 55 electoral votes while others like Alaska and the District of Columbia have 3 votes apiece.

Currently, the Electoral College has 538 electors. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes which is half of the total plus one, to win the White House race.

In 48 out of the 50 states, the winner-takes-all system prevails. This means all the ballot cast for a candidate by his or her supporters goes into a statewide tally. The electors of the winning candidate in any of these states will then vote in the electoral college.

So if a candidate wins say 60 percent of the vote in California, he or she gets all of that state’s electors.

The remaining two states, that is Maine and Nebraska however do not follow this system. They assign their electors using a proportional system known as the Congressional District Method.

The outcome of the results in some states is already known as they traditionally vote Republican or Democratic. But there are a few which change their voting pattern every four years. These states known as swing states include Colorado, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.

Whichever of the candidates receives 270 Electoral College votes or more wins the race.

In case no candidate gets a majority of the Electoral College votes, the House of Representatives will elect the president in accordance with the 12th amendment of the US constitution.

At this stage, each state delegation has only one vote which means that the majority party in each delegation controls the vote.

The vice president in such circumstances is also chosen by the Senate with senators having an individual vote.

This has however happened only once in American history in 1804, when the Electoral College system took it current shape with the 12th amendment.

Although the actual vote of the Electoral College takes place in each state between mid-November and mid-December, a projected winner can be announced on election night.

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