The US Presidential Election

The US Presidential Election

On 8th November 2016, millions of Americans will take to the polling booths to vote for the President of the United States of America for the next four years. There are a number of elections happening on the same day, which include elections for all 435 House of Representatives members, a third of the senate (34 senators), twelve state governorships and a wide variety of local elections. (No wonder lots of voters are a bit overwhelmed!)

How does the election work?

USAMapThis gets confusing so bear with me. The first step in the election is the nomination process. Some states hold primaries which are elections in which registered voters can choose their party’s presidential candidate. Any registered voter can vote in an open primary but some states have closed primaries in which only party-affiliated voters can vote. Some states hold caucuses which are small, locally held meetings in which affiliated party voters have an informal vote for their preferred candidate. (We’re currently in the middle of the nomination process). Each state is allocated delegates who attend the two parties’ National Nomination Conventions (which are a little bit like party conferences). The results of these primaries and caucuses basically tell the delegates who attend the conventions who their state wants them to vote for. Both parties have a certain threshold of delegates a candidate must reach in order to become that party’s presidential candidate.ElectoralCollege2012.svg

ElectoralCollege2012.svgIn case this isn’t confusing enough, there have been cases where these conventions have been “contested” or “brokered”, meaning none of the party’s candidates have reached the threshold of delegates. If this happens then things can get a bit messy. Party delegates basically keep on voting and re-voting for candidates until one of the candidates has a majority of delegates.

When both parties (finally) pick their candidates, the two candidates (and some independent candidates) go head-to-head in the presidential election. The system used, which is known as the Electoral College, is (sadly) also very complicated. People don’t technically vote for the president directly. The vote via electors, or members of the Electoral College, and essentially tell their state’s electors how they want them to vote. Each state has a set number of electors (which are allocated proportionally according to the number of congressional districts they have plus two extra for good measure). In 48 out of the 50 the states, the electors are allocated on a winner takes all basis. A candidate has to hit the magic number (270 electors out of the total 538) in order to win the election.

Why should I care?

America is an important country. And the president is an important person. The president is America’s head of government and head of state. They’re also the commander-in-chief of what is generally considered to be one of the most powerful countries in the world. There’s a reason why the president is often referred to as “The Leader of the Free World”.

And this election could be a historic election. If Hillary Clinton wins, she’ll be the first female president of the United States of America. If Bernie Sanders wins then he’ll be the first Jewish president. And if Ted Cruz wins then he’ll be the first ever Hispanic president. (Basically, it’s a big deal).

Who’s running for the nominations?

The US has a two-party system and the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the two main parties. The candidates currently running for the Democratic nomination are Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The candidates running for the Republican nomination are Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. (Stay posted for more info on the candidates).

What are the important issues of the election?

Neither party has officially unveiled their party platform (or manifesto) but at this stage it looks like the key issues of the election will be immigration, the economy, government welfare and Obamacare, gun control and Obama’s legacy.

Who can vote?

Most American citizens over the age of 18 (excluding those in prison) are eligible to vote. However, voting eligibility varies from state to state and some states exclude ex-convicts. For more information visit https://vote.usa.gov/ 

Useful Videos

These videos, produced by CGP Grey, perfectly explain the primary systems and the electoral college if you want more info.


Election Briefing written by Ashvini Rae.

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Ashvini Rae

I'm 18 and I'm a student, feminist and politics nerd. I think it's important that young people are encouraged to talk about politics, which is why I'm proud to be writing for Voting Counts!

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