Millions of Americans are today voting in the 59th quadrennial presidential election in a vote that will see Republican candidate president Donald Trump go head to head with his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
The two candidates spent the final hours of the campaign articulating their manifestos to voters in critical swing states.
Biden was in Pennsylvania and Ohio with Trump campaigning in the voting battlegrounds of Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
While Trump’s last day of campaigning in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan were characterized by huge crowds, Biden closed his low-key campaign with socially distanced events in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
National polls suggest a significant lead for Biden, but the advantage is slender in a handful of swing states that could decide the race. Nearly 99 million people have already cast their ballots in early voting.
The general election is held every four years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
The electoral college
The dynamics of the US election are that it is possible the candidate with the most votes from the public won’t be the winner. This is because the president is not chosen directly by the voters, but what’s known as the electoral college.
This means voters decide state-level contests rather than the national one, which is why it’s possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally – like Hillary Clinton did in 2016 – but still be defeated by the electoral college.
When Americans go to the polls in presidential elections, they’re actually voting for a group of officials who make up the electoral college and who are simply a group of people with a shared task.
There are 538 electors in total with the size of the population determining the number of electors from each state with each state getting as many electors as it has lawmakers in the US congress or the congressional delegation (in the House of Representatives plus two senators)
Each elector represents one electoral vote with the winning candidate required to get the majority of the votes (at least 270) to clinch the presidency.
California has the most electors (55) while sparsely populated States like Alaska, Wyoming and North Dakota (and Washington DC) have the minimum of three.
The District of Columbia is allocated 3 electors and treated like a State for purposes of the Electoral College under the 23rd amendment of the constitution.
Most States have a winner-take-all system that awards electors to the presidential candidate who wins the State’s popular vote. However, Nebraska and Maine each have a variation of proportional representation where seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned based on population derived from the constitutionally mandated Census.
Is the election just about the president?
Democrats already have control of the House so they will be looking to keep hold of that while also gaining control of the Senate.
If they had a majority in both chambers, they would be able to block or delay President Trump’s plans if he were to be re-elected.
All 435 seats in the House are up for election this year, while 33 Senate seats are also up for grabs.
It can take several days for every vote to be counted, but it’s usually pretty clear who the winner is by the early hours of the following morning.
The last time the result wasn’t clear within a few hours was in 2000, when the winner wasn’t confirmed until a Supreme Court ruling was made a month later.
When does the winner take office?
The President-elect takes the oath of office and is sworn in as President of the United States on January 20th in the year following the general election.
The new president is officially sworn into office in a ceremony known as the inauguration, which is held on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC.
If Joe Biden wins the election, he wouldn’t immediately replace President Trump as there is a set transition period to give the new leader time to appoint cabinet ministers and make plans.
After the ceremony, the new president makes their way to the White House to begin their four-year term in office.