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The US President has a huge impact on the lives of people at home and abroad. So when the next election takes place on November 3rd, the result will matter to everyone.
The US political system is dominated by only two parties, so the president always belongs to one of them.
The Republicans are the Conservative political party in the US and their candidate in this year’s election is President Donald Trump, who hopes to stay in power for another four years.
The Republican Party is also known as the GOP or Grand Old Party. In recent years it has stood for lower taxes, gun rights and stricter immigration restrictions. Support for the party tends to be stronger in rural parts of America. Former Republican presidents include George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, and Richard Nixon.
The Democrats are the US Liberal political party and their candidate is Joe Biden, a veteran politician best known for serving as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years.
The Democratic Party is best defined by its liberal stance on issues such as civil rights, immigration and climate change. She believes that government should play a bigger role in people’s lives, such as providing health insurance. Support for the party tends to be stronger in urban parts of America. Former Democratic presidents include John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.
Both men are in their seventies – Mr Trump would be 74 at the start of his second term, while Mr Biden would be the oldest first term president in history at 78.
How is the winner determined?
Both candidates are fighting for the votes of the electoral college.
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Like most electoral systems, the electoral college has a number of advantages and disadvantages, but it is widely respected because of its historical roots in the founding of the United States. It usually reflects the popular vote but failed to make it in two of the last five elections, including when Donald Trump won in 2016.
Each state receives a certain number of votes for the electoral college, based in part on its population, with a total of 538 available. So the winner is the candidate who wins 270 or more.
This means that voters are more likely to decide on contests at the state level than national ones, which is why a candidate – like Hillary Clinton in 2016 – can win the most votes at the national level but is still defeated by the electoral college.
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Hillary Clinton was Donald Trump’s opponent in 2016. She won nearly three million more votes than Mr. Trump, largely because she received high votes in strong democratic states like New York and California. However, her rival comfortably beat her on electoral college 304-227 for winning several close competitions in key states.
All but two states have a winner-all rule. Any candidate who wins the highest number of votes receives all the votes from the state electoral college.
Most states lean heavily on one party or the other, so the focus is usually on around a dozen states that either of them could win. These are known as battlefield states.
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In these states, often referred to as swing states, voters are fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Traditional battlefield states include Florida and Ohio. Other states that have been heavily Republican in the past, such as Arizona and Texas, are considered battlefields in 2020 due to increased support for the Democratic Party.
Who can vote and how do they do it?
If you are a US citizen and you are at least 18 years old, you should be eligible to vote in the four-year presidential election.
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In 2016 around 245 million people were eligible to vote, but fewer than 140 million people actually. According to the US Census Bureau, the majority of those who did not show up to vote said they simply don’t care about politics. Those who registered but didn’t vote said they didn’t like the candidates.
However, many states have passed laws that require voters to produce identification documents to prove who they are before they can vote.
These laws are often introduced by Republicans who say they are needed to protect against election fraud. However, the Democrats accuse them of using this as a form of voter suppression, as it is often poorer minority voters who cannot produce ID such as a driver’s license.
How people vote is controversial this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Some politicians are calling for wider use of postal ballot papers, but President Trump has said – with very little evidence – that this could lead to more electoral fraud.
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Critics say postal ballot papers are prone to fraud – and there have been isolated incidents with Republicans and Democrats – but numerous national and state studies have found no evidence of widespread fraud.
Is the election all about who is president?
No. All of the attention will be on Trump versus Biden, but voters will also select new members of Congress when they fill out their ballot papers.
Congress is the part of the US government that writes and passes laws. It consists of two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The members of the House have a two-year term, while the Senators have a six-year term and are divided into three groups, meaning that one-third of them stand for election every two years.
Democrats are already in control of the house, so they will try to hold it while taking control of the Senate.
If they had a majority in both houses, they could block or delay President Trump’s plans if he were re-elected.
All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election this year, while 33 seats in the Senate are also up for grabs.
When will we find out the result?
It can take several days for each vote to be counted, but by the early hours of the morning it is usually pretty clear who the winner is.
In 2016, Donald Trump took the stage in New York at around 3 a.m. to deliver his victory speech in front of a crowd of cheering supporters.
But don’t set your alarms just yet. Officials are already warning that with the expected increase in postal voting, we may have to wait longer – possibly days or even weeks – for the result this year.
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There are two ways to vote in the US – by going to a polling station on polling day or by voting by post – but the rules vary depending on which state you are in. All states offer some form of postal voting, but many require you to provide a reason why you cannot vote in person on election day. Some states accept coronavirus as a valid reason to use postal voting, but not all are right now.
The last time the outcome was not clear in a matter of hours was in 2000, when the winner wasn’t confirmed until a month later when a Supreme Court decision was made.
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In 2000, the race between Republican candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore was so close that it all came down to the result in Florida, where they were separated by just a few hundred votes. There were weeks of litigation that sparked a recount, but eventually the Supreme Court stepped in. Mr. Bush was declared the winner, gave him all 25 votes of the Florida electoral college, and left a total of 271 victories. Mr Gore, who won more votes nationally than Mr Bush, admitted defeat.
When does the winner take office?
If Joe Biden wins the election, he would not replace President Trump immediately as there is a set transition period to give the new chairman time to appoint cabinet ministers and make plans.
The new president will be officially sworn in on January 20 in a ceremony known as the inauguration, which will take place on the steps of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
After the ceremony, the new president will head to the White House to begin his four-year term.