US election 2020: What is the electoral college and how does it work?

3 November 2020, 19:32 | Updated: 3 November 2020, 20:26

By Matt Drake

The 2020 US Presidential Election is fast approaching, but how does the voting system work?

Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite Hilary Clinton receiving 3million more votes.

This is because of the electoral college and the US voting system.

How does the President get elected?

The US has a similar voting system to the UK in that it uses the First Past the Post (FPTP) system.

In the UK, people elect Members of Parliament to seats and the party which wins over half the seats, 326, wins the election.

Similarly, the US system relies on people voting for a representative of the candidate's party, known as an elector.

There are 538 electors who then vote for the president on behalf of the people in their state.

Each state is assigned a certain number of these electoral votes based on the number of congressional districts they have. They also have two additional votes representing the state's Senate seats.

A majority of 270 of these votes is needed to win the presidency.

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Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite Hilary Clinton receiving 3million more votes
Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016 despite Hilary Clinton receiving 3million more votes. Picture: PA

The electoral college

The electoral college nearly always works on a winner-takes-all basis in which the candidate with the most votes in a state claims all of the state's electoral votes.

In 2016, Trump beat Clinton in Florida by a margin of 2.2% which meant he claimed all of Florida's 29 crucial electoral votes.

This means that a handful of swing states can determine the outcome of an election.

It is the reason why Clinton, despite securing the most votes overall in the election, was defeated because Trump was able to secure more electoral college votes.

How is it distributed?

The number of electoral college votes a state is given is reflected in its population.

There is a minimum of three votes per state which means the relative value of electoral votes varies across the US.

North and South Dakota and the smaller states of New England are overrepresented because of the required minimum of three electoral votes.

But California, Texas and Florida are extremely populous and are underrepresented in the electoral college.

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When is the election?

The US election is November 3, 2020.

A presidential election is held every four years and according to the 22nd Amendment, a President can only serve two terms.

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