Why does California have 55 votes

This is how it works
US presidential election
This is how it works
US presidential election

Hillary Clinton received almost three million votes more than Donald Trump in the 2016 US election. Still, she lost. This is possible because of the American electoral system, the so-called Electoral College, in German "Wahlkollegium". In the indirect electoral system, electors determine who becomes President of the United States. If you understand the centuries-old electoral system, you also understand why some states are so competitive, what's going on with postal voting and where Joe Biden has to score this year to beat Trump.

Who will vote on election day?

The US election always takes place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November - this year on November 3rd. Eligible US citizens aged 18 and over do not vote directly for one of the presidential candidates, but instead cast their vote for electors of the preferred party in their state. These electors ultimately elect the president. Incidentally, since the final introduction of women's suffrage in the USA in 1920, this can also be women electors.

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There are historical reasons for voting on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Most Americans were farmers, and the autumn harvest was over by November. And because voters sometimes had to travel to their polling stations for a long time, but went to church on Sundays, voting took place on Tuesday.

How are the electorates determined?

Democrats and Republicans in every state decide who they will appoint as electorate in the summer before the election at state party conventions or in their own party bodies. Each party appoints as many voters as there is a maximum of the state to win. In the event of a victory, they then cast their vote for their presidential candidate. In California, for example, Democrats and Republicans each vote 55 voters.

And who gets the votes?

The winner gets them all: Whoever wins the majority of the votes in a state can send all voters for that state. If about 60 percent of the vote in California goes to the Democrats, then they also get all 55 electorates in the state - and thus 55 votes for Joe Biden. The other elected Republican electors do not vote. This majority vote means that the candidate with the most votes does not always win. Hillary Clinton won in populous states, but lost very narrowly to Donald Trump in numerous states. But even in these states, Trump then got all the votes of the electorate.

[With the “Twenty / Twenty” newsletter, our US experts accompany you every Thursday on your way to the presidential election. You can register for free here: tagesspiegel.de/twentytwenty.]

The system has therefore been criticized for a long time. Two states do it differently: In Maine and Nebraska, the votes of the electorate are divided proportionally according to the votes obtained.

Which state gets how many electors?

The number of voters in each state depends on its population. The most populous state of California has the most - 55 electorate. Low-population states like Vermont have only three.

When does a candidate win?

There are a total of 538 voters in all states combined. The winner must get more than half of it. So Trump and Biden need at least 270 votes to win. Incidentally, the electoral system is a compromise. The members of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 could not agree whether the people should elect the head of state directly or whether parliament should do this.

Why is everyone talking about swing states?

In some states, based on polls and a certain electoral tradition, it is clear long before the election whether Democrats or Republicans will get a majority of the votes. This is unclear in the swing states. There it is often not decided who will win until election evening. Twelve states were particularly changeable in the past elections, including Pennsylvania, Iowa and Wisconsin. Here it is often late on the evening of the election who is able to win the majority. Because of the postal vote, however, this could drag on even longer.

What's the problem with postal voting?

In many states, votes can still be received by postal vote until November 20th. Until then, the result in the respective country can still change if the result was tight. Postal voting could become even more important in times of the pandemic because many people do not want to vote in person. Changes to operations and cost-cutting measures at the American Post Office were halted in September to ensure that the election went smoothly.

How do the electorate vote?

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, this year on December 14th, the elected voters meet in the respective states to elect the President of the USA with their votes.

However, the representatives are not obliged to vote for their party's candidate. Again and again there were “faithless electors”, unfaithful voters who gave their vote to another candidate without further ado. But none of them has ever successfully changed the outcome of an election.

When are these votes counted?

All ballots from the 50 states and the District of Columbia are sent to the President of the US Senate. On January 6, the House of Representatives and the Senate will meet for the joint count in Congress, which will be held in the famous Capitol in Washington D.C. meets.

When does the term of office of the newly elected President begin?

On January 20, 2021 at 12 noon, the elected president swears his oath of office on the constitution. On the same day, the winner moves to the White House.

the authors

Published on October 19, 2020.