When do we elect the president?

Elections in the USA How is the President of the USA elected?


Joe Biden was elected President of the United States of America in November 2020. He will remain in office for four years. The majority of Americans voted against Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, and voted for Democrat Biden. Even if counting is still going on in mid-November 2020 and no official final result has been determined, it is already clear: The turnout was particularly high in this US election - Joe Biden has received more than 75 million votes so far, Donald Trump more than 71 million votes.

By: Tina Gentner and Veronika Baum

Status: 11/13/2020

Joe Biden, the "President-Elect," and his future Vice President Kamala Harris.

Even if Joe Biden is celebrated as the winner: In the election on November 3, 2020, the president has not actually been elected. The United States of America consists of 50 states. In the elections at the beginning of November it was only determined in each US state which party could send its electorate to the "College of Electors". Only these electors, who of course can also be "electoral women", will vote on December 14, 2020 on who will be the next US president. This makes the presidential election in the USA very different from the elections we have here in Germany. There is one main reason for this: the laws that dictate what the US election should look like are over 200 years old. And back then it looked very different in the USA.

USA in the 18th century

When the electoral laws were passed in 1789, there were no railroads, cars, or telephones. People traveled around the country in horse-drawn carriages and the mail also had to be sent by horse-drawn courier. The United States is a huge country and the distances from city to city are enormous. It took months on horseback to get from the east coast to the west coast.

Why is voting always on Tuesday?

The President of the USA is elected every four years, always on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. The month of November was chosen for the election because it was particularly suitable for the farmers. And when the law was made, the vast majority of Americans were farmers - or farmers - as they say. The harvest was then brought in and the farmers had enough time to vote. In addition, in early November there is still no snow in most of the United States, so people could make the trip to the polling station on foot or in their horse-drawn carriages.

Election day was never court day

In the 18th and 19th centuries, trials were always held on the first day of the month. So that judges, defendants, lawyers and witnesses could also vote, this complicated election date has been considered, as it will never fall on the first of the month.

Tuesday was also very practical as election day because it gave people who lived far away from the polling station enough time to travel: Sunday was then considered a day of rest on which one should not travel and so people only drove on Monday Come on. So everyone had at least a full day to get to the polling station.

USA - big country

The USA is a huge country: almost 27 times the size of Germany. And that's why they came up with all sorts of strange laws over 200 years ago in order to still get a joint presidential election. Many Americans think that some of these laws are out of date, but it is still not easy to change them: The laws are part of the so-called Constitution of the United States, in which the most important principles of the country were written down. Anyone who wants to change these principles needs a large majority of votes. This majority had previously had no party and so none of these laws could be changed.

Electors - why do they exist?

"Count every vote". That means: "Every vote counts" and is important in a democracy.

In the presidential election, the Americans do not vote directly to the president, but to so-called electors. These electors announce which candidate they will vote for before the election. The voters choose their elector accordingly. Most of the time, the electors then also vote for the candidate to whom they have professed. However, they are not really forced to do so.

The idea of ​​electors came about during the "Wild West": Back in the 18th century there was no radio or television and only rarely a newspaper - so most voters had never heard or read about the presidential candidates. So how would a farmer in California know how good a candidate from Washington, which is thousands of miles away, really is?

Then the lawmakers came up with the idea with the electors: the electors must know the candidates in some way. At the same time, the electors must also be known to the voters in their country. The politicians hoped that people would trust "their" electors to choose the "better" candidate.

Each US state has its own electoral area. Depending on the number of residents, a state also receives a certain number of electors. There are a total of 538 electors. Each state counts how many votes each candidate has received after the election. The following applies in almost all states: Whoever gets the majority of the votes also receives the votes of all electors. So in the 2020 election, either all of a state's votes went to Joe Biden or Donald Trump.

In 2016, the American electoral system helped Donald Trump win.

This principle that all votes are simply assigned to the winner ("The Winner Takes It All" principle or "General Ticket") has already led to strange situations. In 2016, the first female U.S. presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, received nearly three million more votes, but only 227 voters. So the majority of Americans actually wanted Clinton to be president instead of Trump. In 2016, Donald Trump had 304 voters allotted. In the year 2000 the Democrat Al Gore got exactly 543,895 more votes than the Republican George W. Bush: But the election was won by George W. Bush, who, according to the "rule of victory", was able to unite the majority of the electoral votes - namely exactly 271 .

Inauguration only next year

Incidentally, the new President Joe Biden will not officially take office until next year: On January 20, 2021, the future President and his Vice President will take the oath of office in front of the Capitol in Washington.