On November 3, Americans across the world head to the polls in an election that pits incumbent President Donald Trump against former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden is a Democratic nominee while Trump is a Republican nominee, who won the US elections in 2016 and is seeking a second term. The elections are currently being followed by millions of people across the world and this is simply because the president of the United States of America has a vast influence on how the world responds to international affairs – trade, wars, business and economic rules, and pandemics. Yet, only a few are aware of how the US electoral system works. So how does it work? The US political system is dominated by two political parties, so the president always belongs to one of them. The Republicans are the conservative political party and their candidate in this year’s election is President Trump, who is hoping to secure another four years in office. The Republican Party is also known as the GOP or the Grand Old Party. In recent years, it has stood for lower taxes, gun rights and tighter restrictions on immigration. Support for the party tends to be stronger in more rural parts of America. Former Republican presidents include George W Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. The Democrats are the liberal political party in the US and their candidate is Biden, an experienced politician best-known for serving as Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years. Trump and Biden are in their 70’s – Trump would be 74 years old at the start of his second term, while at 78, Biden would be the oldest first-term president in US history. Unlike in many countries, in the US the winner of the “popular vote” is not always the candidate who wins most votes nationally – as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton found out in 2016. Instead, candidates compete to win what is known as the ‘Electoral College’ votes. Electoral College While citizens vote for a particular candidate, it is the ‘electors’ of the 50 states whose votes decide who becomes president. Electors are part of a larger national body called the Electoral College. They are chosen by the parties, though the process varies from state to state. In certain cases, electors are simply appointed by the state party committee whereas in other cases, they campaign for the role and are voted in at state party conventions. Electors vote for a candidate based on the popular vote in the state. For instance, if more than half of the citizens in Michigan cast their ballot in favour of Biden, all the state’s electors are bound to cast their vote for Biden. Each state gets a certain number of Electoral College votes based on its population and there are a total of 538 up for grabs, so the winner is the candidate that wins 270 or more. This means that when someone votes for their preferred candidate, they are voting in a state-level contest rather than a national one. All but two states (Maine and Nebraska) have a winner-takes-all rule, so whichever candidate wins the highest number of votes is awarded all of the state’s Electoral College votes. Most states lean heavily towards one party or the other, which means the candidates focus their efforts on a dozen or so states where either of them could win. These are known as the battleground states. If none of the candidates has garnered the 270, the House of Representatives will choose the President, which has only happened once in 1824. When the president wins the election, he is mandated to govern but then two years later, there is an election of new members of Congress. According to Mark J Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University in Virginia, most presidential elections are focused from the beginning on winning 5-10 states, which will bind the critical marginal electors needed to get 270. “You only have to win a state by one vote to get a 100 per cent of its electors. The margin does not matter,” Rozell said during a virtual press briefing at the US Foreign Press Centres’ election. In 2016, Trump secured 306 electoral votes while Clinton secured only 232, thus becoming president even though Clinton won the popular vote by a wide margin. Trump had won many more states by smaller margins, which meant he secured more electoral votes, explained Dr Rozell. For instance, Trump won Pennsylvania by 68,236 votes, Wisconsin by 27,257 and Michigan by 11,837 votes. Similarly, George W. Bush won the 2000 election despite Al Gore winning the popular vote by almost half a million. However, that year, the presidency was decided by the Supreme Court. Disputed votes in a Florida county ultimately gave Bush a razor-thin lead. The larger the state, the more the number of representatives, and hence, more the number of electors. For instance, California has 55 and Texas 38, while North Dakota and Delaware have three each. Election Day Americans will officially go to polls tomorrow, although early voting has been underway with citizens voting by mail-in ballots, in-person or absentee ballots. Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who runs the US Elections Project said more than 94 million people had voted as of Monday, November 2. In the entire 2016 election, 136.5 million people voted, CNN said, so this time voter turnout is already more than two-thirds that number. The voting-eligible population – people who should be able to vote if registered – is 239,247,182. Many have opted for mail-in ballots to avoid packed polling stations due to the coronavirus. But the huge turnaround, many experts argue, could be attributed to the fact that many Americans are politically divided amid the novel Coronavirus pandemic, which has hit America harder than any other country. Trump has been accused of mismanaging the pandemic, a ticket that his challenger Biden is using against him. At the same time, the elections are happening at the same time the US is experiencing racial tensions, including the killing of a black American George Floyd by a Policeman, an event that sparked global protests against racism.