Update May 24, 2024

US elections 2024

All you need to know about the vote
by Silvia Martelli
28 May
Texas: nonpresidential primary runoff
Update March 29, 2024

How elections work

The election on Nov. 5, 2024, in the United States will determine the country's 47th president, who will serve for the next four years.

But it goes beyond that: many members of Congress will also be elected and they will play a key role in setting policy priorities and advancing the legislative agenda in the coming years. Citizens will indeed vote for the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 33 of the 100 seats in the Senate.

The months leading up to November will be eventful: caucuses, primaries, campaigns and conventions, as established by the complex political system that we try to explain in this Q&A.

The 2024 election will be on Tuesday, 5 November 2024, and people will vote for the next president. The winner will serve a term of four years, starting in January 2025.

When they fill in their ballots, voters will not only choose the next president, but also new members of Congress. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives are up for election. As for the Senate, 33 seats are also up for grabs (each state has two senators who are elected to serve six-year terms and every two years one third of the Senate is up for reelection). Currently, Democrats are in charge of the Senate and Republicans control the House.

Representatives by State

The number of representatives to be elected in each state

Senators per state

The number of senators that will be elected in each state

Primaries and Caucuses are the main voting events whereby voters select delegates who will represent them at the upcoming conventions. These are simply two ways that people help states and political parties choose presidential nominees.

Primarie: Party members vote for the best candidate that will represent them in the general election. Most states hold primaries six to nine months before a presidential election. Primary voters choose their preferred candidate anonymously by casting secret ballots.

Caucus: It's a stage at which party members select the best candidate through a series of discussions and votes. It's a meeting of local members of a political party to select delegates to the national party convention. A caucus is said to be a substitute for primary elections. The states currently using the caucus system are Nevada, Wyoming, North Dakota, Iowa, Missouri.

The number of states that hold caucuses has been dwindling for years, in part at the encouragement of the Democratic National Committee to use a government-run primary. Kansas, Maine and Hawaii are among the latest states to opt for a primary system, which often allows more people to participate than caucuses.

Primaries vs caucuses

The states that use primaries and those that use caucuses

A delegate is defined as a person authorized to represent others as an elected representative to a political party conference. They can be elected officials, party leaders, or grassroots activists (meaning that while delegates can include politicians, they are not necessarily exclusively politicians.)

swing states, also known as 'battleground states', are states that could support either Democratic or Republican candidates. Because they can potentially be won by both candidates, political parties often invest more time and money in campaigning in these states.

The battleground states in 2024 are Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and North Carolina.

The swing states

The number of states that switched parties from the previous election

During national conventions, delegates selected during the primaries and caucuses "to represent the people" will "endorse" their favorite candidates. Simply put, state delegates go to the national convention to vote to confirm their choice of candidates. The final presidential nominee from each party will be officially announced at the end of the conventions. It is at the convention that the presidential candidate chooses a “running mate" — a Vice Presidential candidate.

The Electoral College is a body of electors established by the United States Constitution, responsible for formally electing the President and Vice President of the United States: in the US, the President and Vice President are elected by the electoral college, rather than a direct popular vote.

The Electoral College is made up of 538 electors chosen by each state, which is allocated a number of electors equal to the total number of its Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. For example, California, being the most populous state, has 55 electors, while smaller states like Wyoming have 3 electors (2 Senators + 1 Representative). The process of selecting electors varies by state, but they are typically chosen by the political parties and are often party loyalists.

Voters by State

The number of electors allocated to each state

On Election Day (Nov. 5), when voters cast their ballots for president and vice president, they are actually voting for a slate of electors chosen by the political party of the respective candidates. In short, they are telling their state which candidate they want their State to vote for at the meeting of the electors.

In all states except for Maine and Nebraska, the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state receives all of its electoral votes. This is often referred to as a "winner-takes-all" system. The electors meet in their respective states on Dec. 17 after the general election to cast their votes for president and vice president. These votes are then sent to Congress.

On Jan. 6, the votes are counted during a joint session of Congress. The candidate who receives an absolute majority of electoral votes (270 out of 538) becomes the President-elect. If no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives chooses the president from among the top three candidates, with each state delegation having one vote.

Critics of the Electoral College argue that it can lead to situations where a candidate wins the popular vote nationwide but loses the electoral vote, as happened in the elections of 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016.

Both candidates compete to win electoral college votes. Each state has a certain number of electoral college votes partly 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 voters decide state-level contests rather than the national one, which is why it's possible for a candidate to win the most votes nationally - like Hillary Clinton did in 2016 - but still be defeated by the electoral college.

All but two states have a winner-takes-all rule (Maine and Nebraska), 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, so the focus is usually on a dozen or so states where either of them could win. These are known as the battleground states.

In summary, while delegates play a role in nominating a party's presidential candidate at the national convention, the Electoral College is responsible for formally electing the President and Vice President of the United States based on the outcome of the general election.

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