US Election results

Red, white and blue: The Republican-Democrat colour system was not standardised until the 2000 election.

The winner of Tuesday’s election will have a huge influence on the future not only of the US – but of the whole world. What does it take to win? And when will we know the full result?

  • How does a candidate win the election?

    Unlike many other countries, the US is not a direct democracy. The result is technically down to “electors” – people who are the delegates to the electoral college. Selected by each state, they formally appoint the president and vice-president of the United States .

    There are 538 electors allowed in each presidential election. Most states have a winner-takes-all system, so if a candidate wins the most votes in the state, they get all the Electoral College votes. The first candidate to 270 Electoral Votes wins.

  • What are battleground states?

    There are certain states with a long history of voting for the same party. These are known as “safe states”. However, others are unpredictable and can swing either way. Candidates focus on these “battleground” states because they often become the deciders in an election. Battleground states shift over the years as populations change.

    One of the most fascinating 2020 battleground states is Wisconsin. In 2016, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was so sure of its support that she did not visit the state while campaigning. Then, the state broke a 24-year streak by voting for Donald Trump, who won by 0.7%.

  • Are we just waiting for a result about the president?

    No. All of the attention may be on Trump v Biden, but Americans also chose members of Congress when they filled in their ballots.

    Democrats already have control of the House of Representatives, so they are also looking to gain control of the Senate. Having control over both houses in Congress would give the party a lot more power – even if Trump is declared victorious. All 435 seats in the House were up for election this year, as well as 35 Senate seats.

  • What are postal ballots and why do they matter?

    This year in most states in the US, there are four ways people can vote – in person before election day, in person on election day, by posting an absentee ballot or placing it in a secure box to be collected. Every state offers some form of postal ballot as an option, but the rules about postal voting vary from state to state. Some require voters to provide a reason for not being able to vote in person though these rules have been relaxed this year due to the pandemic.

    The pandemic has also meant a huge number of voters cast postal ballots. These take longer to count, meaning that it could take longer than normal to have a complete result.

  • How long does it usually take to know the result?

    It can take several days for every single vote to be counted. On several occasions, the outcome of the election has been contested. The most recent was in 2000. The count was so close that the winner had to be confirmed by a Supreme Court ruling a month after the election.

    This year we should expect a final result sometime on Friday (later today) – though some of these counts will be disputed in court and legal proceedings could drag on.

  • When will the winner take office?

    If Joe Biden wins the election, he will not immediately replace President Trump. There is always a set transition period that gives the new leader the opportunity to appoint cabinet secretaries and make plans.

    The new president is officially sworn into office on 20 January in a ceremony known as the inauguration, which is held on the steps of the Capitol building in Washington DC. After the ceremony, the new president makes their way to the White House to begin their four-year term in office.

You Decide

  1. Is the Electoral College a good way to choose a president? What are some alternatives?


  1. Imagine you have just lost an election. Write a considerate and balanced concession speech, accepting that your opponent has won.

Word Watch

Direct democracy
A form of democracy in which people decide on policy initiatives directly. A referendum is a kind of direct democracy.
24-year streak
From 1988 to 2012, the state voted Democrat.
The national legislative body. Congress meets at the Capitol in Washington DC, was established by the Constitution of 1787 and is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
House of Representatives
The lower chamber of the United States Congress. The Democrats won control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.
The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress. It acts as a check to the power of the government. The battle for control of the Senate is therefore as consequential as the race for the White House.
Somebody who is absent. In other words, they are either expected or required at a place or event, but do not come.
Supreme Court
The USA’s highest court.
A building in which a state legislative body meets. Most states have a capitol building, although some use the term “statehouse”, instead.
Demographics is the study of a population based on factors such as age, race, and sex. Demographic data refers to information expressed statistically. It also includes employment, education, income, marriage rates, birth and death rates.

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