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‘How the US counts its votes in the presidential election’

Published: 7th Nov, 2020

Let’s take a look at how the world’s oldest democracy counts their votes.


Let’s take a look at how the world’s oldest democracy counts their votes.


How is the American President elected?

  • There are five main steps to electing a President:
    • Primaries and Caucuses
    • National Conventions
    • Election Campaigning
    • General Election
    • Electoral College
  • Forty-eight states, plus the District of Columbia, have a winner-takes-all approach to their Electoral College votes.
  • This means that on election day whoever wins the popular vote by even a single vote, wins all of the state's electoral votes.
  • It therefore does not matter by how many votes the candidates win in each state, as long as they win more than the next person.

Who actually elected the President?

  • US voters have no constitutional right to vote for the president or his running mate.
  • In the US Election process, voters merely indicate a preference, but the task of actually electing the president falls to these 538 individual electors to the US Electoral College.
  • It is possible for candidates to be the most popular candidate among voters and still fail to win enough states to gain majority electoral votes.
  • In practice, electors almost always vote for the candidate who wins the popular vote.

For example

  • If an elector votes against their state's presidential pick, they become "faithless".
  • This happened in the 2016 race when seven electoral college votes were cast this way, but the results weren't affected by the faithless electors.
  • In 2016, Donald Trump had almost three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, but won the presidency because the electoral college gave him a majority.

How are elections supervised in the US?

  • In the US, all elections — federal, state, and local — are directly organised by the ruling governments of individual states.
  • The US Constitution and laws grant the states wide latitude in how they administer elections, resulting in varying rules across the country.
  • In many US states, the responsibility of conducting elections falls on the state’s secretary of state — a politician who in some states is directly elected and in others appointed by the state governor.

How is the election process different from India?

  • In India, the Constitution under Article 324 provides for a separate rule-making Election Commission that is independent of the executive in government.
  • Set up in 1950, it is charged with the responsibility of conducting polls to the offices of the President In India, the ECI has been devised as an apolitical body — a key priority of the country’s founding leaders.
  • So, US states vary widely when it comes to key electoral practices such as vote counting, postal voting and drawing constituencies.
  • Often, individual states are accused of providing an unfair advantage to one political party throughpractices such as gerrymandering
  • During the Jim Crow era (late 19th century-early 20th century), states in the American South actively disenfranchised Black people– a practice that was largely curbed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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