Everywhere you look, you see political campaign signs, billboards, and media ads. Even if you are not currently in the United States, it is important to understand the U.S election process as the outcome influences all countries. While the presidential candidates get the most attention, in this election, citizens will also be voting for seats in Congress, which is where laws are written and passed. Congress consists of two chambers: House of Representatives and Senate. All 435 seats of the House are up for re-election, and 33 seats of the Senate.
The U.S. has a multi-party political system, but is dominated by two major parties- Republican, also known as GOP (Grand Old Party) and Democrat. In general, the Republican party, known as the more conservative political party, is founded on the idea of individual rights and justice. Recently, it has stood for lower taxes, gun rights, and tighter restrictions on immigration. Support for this party is often found in more rural areas. The Democrat party revolves around community and social responsibility and takes a more liberal stance on issues such as climate change, health insurance, and the death penalty. Support for the Democratic party is stronger in urban areas.
Our current President, Donald Trump is Republican and is campaigning for a second 4-year term. The Democrat candidate is Joe Biden, former Vice President for Barack Obama. Candidates compete for electoral college votes. Each state gets a certain number of electoral college votes based on its population. There are 538 votes available, so a candidate needs to win at least 270 votes (51%) to become president. A candidate is trying to win each state-level contest rather than the popular vote. All but two states (Nebraska and Maine) have a “winner-takes-all” rule, so whichever candidate gets the highest number of votes gets all of the electoral college votes for that state. In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received the most individual votes nationally, but Republican nominee Donald Trump had the most electoral college votes and therefore won the election.
Most states lean heavily toward one party or the other. But a few states are considered "battleground states", meaning support is close to being evenly divided between the two parties. Examples of these states are Florida, Ohio, Arizona, and Pennsylvania. These are key states for the candidates to try win.
All American citizens who are 18 and over are eligible to register to vote. Many, but not all states allow you to mail in your ballot or vote in person on the day of the election, which is November 3rd. Mail-in voting is an important issue this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It can take several days for all of the votes to be counted, but often the winner can be announced by the next day. If the incumbent (current) presidential candidate loses, the new president will be sworn in during an inauguration ceremony on January 20, 2021. We all want to have a safe, and fair election process. One of the fundamental values of being an American citizen is the right and privilege to vote for America's leadership. AHLI invites you to learn more about the American election process by talking with your host family, watching the presidential debates, and following the election night news coverage.
Tiffanee M. Wright, MA, MPH | Executive Director