Current Affairs A student's guide to US Presidential elections

A student’s guide to US Presidential elections


November 7, 2020

The 2020 United States 59th presidential general elections election was held on November 3, 2020. On November 3rd the voters voted for presidential electors. The counting is still on with Joe Biden leading.

Timeline of 2020 Presidential elections and process

  • The USA has a Presidential form of government
  • It has a two-party system – Republic and Democrat
  • The Presidential election is an indirect election

The actually Presidential elections began in February 2020.

  1. February 03- August 11: Election to Presidential Primary and Caucuses
  2. August 17 -August 27: Republic and Democratic Party Conventions
  3. September 29 – October 23: Presidential debates
  4. November 3: General elections/Presidential elections to elect presidential electors
  5. December 14: The electors will vote to elect their President and Vice-President
  6. January 20: Inauguration of the winner of the 2020 presidential election

1-Primary and Caucuses:

The aim of Primaries and Caucuses is to elect the delegates. It is these delegates who in turn will support a presidential candidate in each party at the convention party.

The first step of the USA elections is Primary and Caucus elections. These are state and local-level elections.

Many candidates are interested to become President of the USA. (For example, in the 2020 elections Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, contested for Presidential candidate from the Democratic party). The candidates campaign around the country and compete to try to win their party’s nomination.

There are two ways of selecting the candidates – Primary and Caucus

In States holding Primaries – just like normal elections, a registered voter will vote for their candidate to represent in the general elections.

In States holding Caucuses – party members meet, discuss, and vote for who they think would be the best party candidate.

2-Party Convention 

After Primaries and caucuses, each party will hold a party convention. Conventions finalize a party’s choice for Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees.

To become the Presidential nominee, a candidate typically has to win a majority of delegates. This usually happens through the party’s primaries and caucuses. It’s then confirmed through a vote of the delegates at the national convention.

The Democratic party convention held on August 17 -August 20, choose Joe Biden for President and Kamala Harris for Vice-President formally.

The Republic party convention held from August 24- August 27 choose Donald Trump for President and Mike Pence for Vice-President.

3-Presidential debates

The Presidential candidates campaign throughout the country to win the support of the general population. The Republican and Democratic candidates for president and vice president participate in debates and campaigns across the country.

4-General Elections

The general elections are held on the first Tuesday in November. This year 2020 it was on November 3.

There are two ways of measuring the votes: Popular votes and Electoral votes

Popular Votes: Popular votes refers to the total number of votes each candidate receives on the election day. However, the winner of the popular votes does not always win the elections.

Electoral Votes: The US constitution has specially created these electoral votes, to curb the tyranny of democracy – i.e., Majority rules. How does it work?

1.Every state (50 states in the US) is divided into Congressional districts. Each state gets a number of electors based on the number of congressional districts in that state.

(Congressional districts in the United States are electoral divisions for the purpose of electing members of the United States House of Representatives (Lower house). Each congressional district represents approximately 711,000 people.)

2. Except for the states Maine and Nebraska, the system of ‘winner takes all’ is followed. So, whoever wins the elections takes all the States’ electoral votes.

For Instance:

In the present 2020 elections in the state of Florida, the number of Electoral votes is 29.

Joe Biden got 52,84,377 votes

Donald Trump got 56,58,690 votes

Since Donald Trump got more votes, he takes all the 29 Electoral votes

Here, electoral votes are 29 and the popular vote for Donald Trump is 56,58,690 votes.


Totally, there are 538 electoral votes and to win the election the Presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes. (The number of electors (538) from each state is the same quantity as the state’s Congressmen (members of the House of Representatives and two Senators). There are 100 senators and 435 state representatives and 3 members from the District of Columbia.)

Below is the table of-  States and number of electoral votes

5-Electoral college elects President and Vice-President 

The electoral college consists of representatives elected only for the purpose of Presidential elections. After the general elections, each state legislatures choose their electors, based on the popular votes.

States generally require electors to pledge to vote for that state’s winner; to avoid faithless electors, most states have adopted various laws to enforce the electors’ pledge.

The electors of each state meet in their respective state capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December to cast their votes. This year, it is on December 14, electors will vote to elect President and Vice-President.

6. Inauguration of the winner of the presidential election

The elected president and vice president are inaugurated on January 20.

Comparative facts between India and the USA elections


  1. Presidential form of government
  2. President is the head of the State
  3. Indirect elections
  4. President does not win by just majority votes. Electoral college elects the President
  5. The USA still use paper ballots to vote
  6. Election to Lower House and Upper house is different from Presidential elections



  1. Parliamentary form of government
  2. Prime Minister is the real head of the State. President is just Nominal head
  3. Direct elections
  4. Whoever gets the majority votes wins the election.
  5. India uses Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) to vote
  6. In the general elections, members of the Lower house are elected and the leader of the winning party becomes the Prime Minister.

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