Right now, we are in the middle of the 2020 presidential election. Even though the general election isn’t until November, I wanted to tell you how it works.

So, every state votes in the general election for either the Democratic or Republican nominee, that they elected in their primaries in the springtime (which are happening right now, in case you’re interested!). Whichever candidate gets the most votes in that state get that state’s electoral college electors. The more populated a state is, the more electors they get. For example, California is the most populated state, with about 39 million people. It has 55 electors, the most of any state. Wyoming is the least populated state, with only 567,025 people! They have only 3 electors! In all, there are 538 electoral college electors in all. Half of 538 is 269, so you need 270 electors, a majority, to win. This means you do not have to win the popular vote to win the election. 

There have been five races in US History where the winner did not receive the popular vote. They were 1824, where John Quincy Adams lost the popular vote to Andrew Jackson, but still won the election, 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes lost the popular vote to Samuel Tilden, and still won, 1888, when Grover Cleveland won the popular vote against Benjamin Harrison, but Harrison still won, 2000, when Al Gore got more votes the George W. Bush, and lost, and in 2016, when Donald Trump won less votes then Hillary Clinton, but still won. 

Many states are identified as “red states” or “blue states”. This means that they are states that are either usually vote for the Democratic nominee, or usually vote for the Republican nominee. Some examples of blue states are Massachusetts, New York, California, and New Jersey. Some examples of red states are Mississippi, Alaska, and Oklahoma.  Some states usually vote one way or another, but don’t always. For example, Iowa and Ohio lean Republican, but sometimes, like in 2012, they can go Democratic.

Some states are generally viewed as “tossup states”, meaning that they will not reliably vote Democratic or Republican. This years, these states are Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Arizona, and North Carolina. 

This will all happen on Election Day, which is November 3, 2020. If you’re interested, watch for it then! And now, you know all these things that can help give you a better understanding of how America elects its presidents.

A map of the 2012 election results. Blue (Barack Obama)=State went Democratic, Red (Mitt Romney)=State went Republican. Barack Obama won.
A map of the 2016 election results. Blue (Hillary Clinton)=State went Democratic, Red (Donald Trump)=State went Republican. Donald Trump won.