U.S. Elections 2020 Overview

This poster explains the presidential election process.
This poster explains the presidential election process.

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” –President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963–1969)

The 59th United States Presidential Election will be held on Tuesday, November 3, 2020 (Wednesday 4th, New Zealand time). Learn more here about how the U.S. election system works below, and join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

Americans will go to the polls On November 3, 2020 to cast their ballots for the man who will serve as U.S. president for the following four years, but first they must select delegates who will vote at national conventions to determine which candidates appear on those ballots.

American Citizens: How to vote from outside of the United States

The U.S. Embassy and U.S. Consulate General are here to help you exercise your right to vote and answer your voting questions. Voting from abroad is a three-step process that needs to be started early. Please see more information here.

The Road to the White House

The road to the White House seems to lengthen with each successive election cycle. For months, prospective candidates have been testing the waters with exploratory committees, fundraising events and tours of states holding early primaries.

Achieving the U.S. presidency almost certainly will involve first winning the nomination of one of the country’s major political parties by securing the votes of a majority of the delegates attending a national convention.

So-called “third party” candidates — those not affiliated with either the Democratic or the Republican party — could affect the outcome of the race by depriving the major candidates of votes, but, based on U.S. history, are unlikely to be elected themselves.

Democratic and Republican parties set their own rules for selecting delegates and for allocating votes among participating jurisdictions.

How to become a U.S. President

How to Follow the U.S. Elections on Election Day

Many major news outlets will cover the U.S. Elections on Election Day. All you need to do is go online and search “U.S. Elections 2020”.

Also, if on social media, follow Hashtags – #yourvotecounts #USElections2020, #votefromhere #2020election, and #USElectionsNZ.

Presidential Election Process

Follow this link, to learn about the presidential election process, including the Electoral College, caucuses and primaries, and the national conventions.

Explore the U.S. Election Process:

As we are gearing up for the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, the road to the final event can seem confusing. Here’s an easy guide to understanding the U.S. elections process and a calendar to help you keep up to date with the upcoming U.S. election events in the United States.

Primaries and Caucuses: The Differences. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

The election process begins with primary elections and caucuses. These are two methods that states use to select a potential presidential nominee. Primary elections and caucuses differ in how they are organized and who participates. And rates of participation differ widely.


Primaries are run by state and local governments. Voting happens through secret ballot. Some states hold “closed” primaries in which only declared party members can participate. In an open primary, all voters can participate, regardless of their party affiliation or lack of affiliation.


Caucuses are private meetings run by political parties. They are held at the county, district, or precinct level. In most, participants divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support. At the end, the number of voters in each group determines how many delegates each candidate has won.

When are they held?

State and local governments determine the dates on which primary elections or caucuses are held. These dates, and the amount of time between a primary and general election, significantly influence how early candidates begin campaigning and the choices they make about how and when campaign funds are spent.

In the run-up to presidential elections, victories in primaries held very early in the election year, such as that in New Hampshire, can influence the outcome of later state primaries.

Importance of Iowa Caucus. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

Why does Iowa vote first? And what is a caucus?

Iowa, which holds its Democratic and Republican caucuses February 1, is neither particularly large nor populous. And yet it plays an outsized role in selecting each major party’s presidential candidate.

What is a “caucus?” And, why does Iowa vote first?

The parties make the rules

The U.S. Constitution and other laws establish the rules governing elections for president and other federal offices, but how political parties select their candidates is up to the parties themselves.

Both major parties select their presidential and vice presidential candidates at a convention, held in the summer before a presidential election. Each state is apportioned a number of convention delegates, using a formula established by the party. (It’s usually a combination of the state’s population and how often it has voted for the party’s presidential candidate in recent elections.)

Much of the presidential campaigning you see during the months before that convention revolves around state-level contests to select those convention delegates.

For a long time, party officials selected most states’ delegates. Presidential candidates thus were selected by a consensus among leading party figures and officeholders.

Beginning in the 1970s, parties opened the process to greater voter participation.

Most states now hold a primary election. By choosing among candidates for president, voters select delegates “pledged” to support that candidate at the party convention. Since 1936 for Democrats and even earlier for Republicans, a simple majority of delegates determines the party nominee.

Iowa and a few other states instead chose their delegates through caucuses. Voters gather in about 2,000 designated locations—typically a school or other public building but sometimes a private home— and make statements in support of their preferred candidate. The discussions can be vigorous, but in the end, every participant casts a vote. (Republicans write down their choice and drop it in a ballot box; Democrats move to different parts of the room to indicate their selection.)

Republicans and Democrats have different rules. For Democrats, if a candidate fails to reach 15 percent support at a caucus location, his or her supporters can switch to another candidate. That’s a formula for persuasion, horse-trading, and old -fashioned politics! Party officials receive the final results from each caucus location and use them to allocate Iowa’s convention delegates among the candidates.

While some consider the caucus system less democratic than primary elections, many Iowans disagree. To succeed in caucuses, candidates must demonstrate their ability to motivate and, especially, organize supporters — useful skills for a prospective president.

“I think the caucuses are what democracies are built on,” Iowa Republican official Charlie Szold told Business Insider. “The idea that a group of neighbors will get together to talk and debate and decide who they want to be our next president, or our next nominee in this case, gets at the very essence of what America is built on.”

What’s at stake?

In theory, not that much. Iowa will send 52 of 4,764 total delegates to the Democratic convention and 30 of 2,472 to its Republican counterpart.

In practice, Iowa counts for much more. Its position as the first state means it helps to narrow the field of potential candidates. Candidates campaign long and hard in Iowa; if they do poorly there, supporters and financial contributors frequently abandon their original choice in favor of a stronger one.

Why Iowa votes first is a little complicated. Mostly it’s because going first used not to be that important. One account is that back in 1972, the state’s Democratic chairman wanted to send every caucus-selected delegate their own copy of the party’s lengthy rules and party-platform proposals. This was before computers. Four months would be needed, he believed, to copy all those materials on the era’s state-of-the-art mimeograph machines. So he moved the caucuses to January.

It was only after Jimmy Carter’s success in Iowa’s 1976 caucuses propelled him to the presidency that candidates and other states understood the benefit of going first. But the precedent had been set. Iowa goes first. It even passed a law that advances its caucus date as required to stay that way.

What is Super Tuesday? Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

(From ShareAmerica)

Many American sports fans look forward to Super Bowl Sunday. But Americans who follow politics wait for “Super Tuesday.” What is Super Tuesday, and why is it important?

The major U.S. political parties — Democratic and Republican — select their presidential and vice presidential candidates at a party convention to which each state (and several U.S. territories) sends delegates. During February 2016, four states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — are selecting delegates.

But on March 1, Super Tuesday, 14 U.S. states and territories will hold primaries and caucuses to choose more than 1,000 Democratic and 600 Republican delegates pledged to one or another of the presidential candidates. Since a Democrat needs 2,382 delegates, and a Republican 1,237, to capture the party nomination, Super Tuesday states play a big role in choosing each party’s standard-bearer.

States banding together

Why do some states choose to hold their primaries and caucuses on the same day? To maximize their influence. Many of the Super Tuesday states and territories have small populations and few delegates. By holding their contests on the same day, they can collectively have a greater effect on selecting the next U.S. president.

Another factor is that many Super Tuesday states have similar concerns on national issues. Many of them are in the South — so many that the media has also called March 1 the “SEC Primary,” after the Southeastern Conference in U.S. college athletics.

“The idea is you have states who have similar interests go at the same time. That may have a larger effect on the nomination process,” University of Arkansas Professor Andrew Dowdle told local news channel KNWA.

Super Tuesday also serves to narrow the field of contenders. A number of candidates who perform poorly in those 14 state contests can be expected to drop out of the race, either because they’ve concluded they can’t win, or because they now will find it more difficult to attract volunteers, raise campaign funds or attract media coverage.

What are Swing States? Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

While each major U.S. political party has many states it counts on winning in November’s presidential election, a handful of states are too close to call.

These “swing states” have populations that are closely divided politically. They have swung back and forth between Democratic and Republican candidates in recent years. They are the battleground states that candidates will target with campaign visits, advertising and staffing.

Experts don’t always agree on which states are swing states. The Cook Political Report sees Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin as toss-ups. Other experts would add New Hampshire, North Carolina and a handful of others to the list.

Swing states and the Electoral College

Americans do not vote directly for their president in November, but rather choose members of the Electoral College who then meet in December and cast their votes based on how the majority of voters in their state voted the previous month. The number of electors each state gets is based on population. For example, Florida, with its large population, will determine 29 electoral votes. (That ties with New York for the most after California and Texas.) The presidential candidate who wins states like Florida has a better chance of winning the election, which requires 270 electoral votes.

The map on the left, below, shows the 50 states of the United States as you are used to seeing them. The map on the right shows the states sized according to how many electoral votes they have.

Why Florida is a special place

Unpredictable and large, Florida is not to be ignored in the presidential election.

It swings between major parties — the state supported Democrat Barack Obama in 2008 and Republican George W. Bush in 2000, for instance. The fact that the winner in the Sunshine State has won the presidency in every presidential race since 1964 lends it a special mystique.

Florida voters will get two chances to make their mark on the presidential race. First on March 17 in the state primary, when they consider candidates competing for the parties’ nominations, and then on November 3, when they choose from among the two major parties’ nominated candidates and any independent candidate or candidates from other political parties that get listed on the ballot.

This year, the main focus in the Florida primary is on the contested Democratic nomination. Under Florida’s rules, only registered members of a party may vote on March 17. About 37 percent of Florida’s electorate is Democratic, 35 percent is Republican and 27 percent don’t belong to a party.

Independents, who won’t be able to vote in the March primary but will be a factor in November’s general election, contribute to the volatility of Florida’s voting behavior.

While the state is known for its elderly population, that’s not a reflection of the electorate any more. In fact, the youngest three generations (born in 1965 and later) amount to 54 percent of registered voters. Many of the state’s younger voters are independents.

Women will be a big factor in the primary and general elections because they are a majority of the electorate, especially in the Democratic Party. Women make up 58 percent of Florida’s registered Democrats, compared to men’s 39 percent. Voters are diverse in other ways as well. Latinos, for instance, include Republican-leaning Cuban-Americans and Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans. The state has “snowbirds” registered to vote — winter residents who travel south each year from areas like the Midwest and Northeast.

All that diversity means Florida is where candidates can try out their acts to figure out how to reach a national audience.

This article was originally posted on ShareAmerica

Understanding America’s Electoral College. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

Electoral College

In other U.S. elections, candidates are elected directly by popular vote. But the president and vice president are not elected directly by citizens. Instead, they’re chosen by “electors” through a process called the Electoral College.

The process of using electors comes from the Constitution. It was a compromise between a popular vote by citizens and a vote in Congress.

When U.S. citizens cast their presidential election ballots, they’ll be voting for someone like Hagner Mister or Rex Teter.

You probably have not heard of Mister or Teter. In fact, most voters who chose them in 2016 did not know who they were. During the last presidential election, Mister and Teter served as electors — a group that is an important part of America’s system for selecting a president. The group is called the Electoral College.

State political parties choose “electors” who convene after Election Day to then choose a president. Voters see the names of the candidates on the ballot, but their votes actually choose the electors who are pledged to those candidates. (Mister, who had been Maryland’s secretary of agriculture, was pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Teter, a Texas preacher, was pledged to vote for Donald Trump that year.)

Each U.S. state gets the same number of electors that it has members of the U.S. House of Representatives plus two more because each state has two U.S. senators. Those electors choose the next president.

A system’s beginnings

The country’s founders created a presidency that has executive power to get things done and is representative of the people so it does not become a dictatorship.

A direct popular vote wasn’t a serious consideration in an era when people were spread throughout the country without today’s communication tools or a developed party system to help them sort through candidates. Elections might frequently have ended with several candidates so close that the House of Representatives would decide the president.

Basing electors on congressional representation mirrors the compromise among states regarding those delegations. States with larger populations are granted a larger, proportionate number of House members, and states with smaller populations are allotted the same number of senators (two) that more populous states have.

The District of Columbia and 48 of the states give all their electoral votes to the candidate who wins their state, whether they squeak by or accumulate thousands more votes. Only Nebraska and Maine allow more than one candidate to win electoral support.


Electors meet in their respective states in December to cast their votes for president and vice president. The results are sent to the president of the Senate, who is the U.S. vice president. The Congress meets in early January to count the votes, after which the president of the Senate declares the winners. On January 20, at noon, the president-elect takes the oath of office and becomes the president of the United States.

Political Conventions. Photo credit: U.S. Embassy Thailand.

(From ShareAmerica).

U.S. political conventions are colorful spectacles. Start with several thousand delegates. Add 15,000 or more print, Internet, radio and television journalists. Don’t forget the speeches. A little-known Illinois legislator named Barack Obama first drew national attention through his 2004 Democratic National Convention address.

And balloons. Lots of balloons. Republicans dropped 120,000 of them from the rafters at their 2012 Republican convention.

For Americans who like politics, the major party conventions are like the Super Bowl; they’re really entertaining, someone wins, and you can watch them on TV.

Not just fun

Despite the pageantry, the political conventions serve very important purposes. In four days (July 18–21 for Republicans; July 25–28 for Democrats) each convention will:

  • Select the party’s candidates for president and vice president.
  • Help build enthusiasm for that ticket.
  • Approve a platform stating the party’s positions on the issues of the day.
  • Give other party figures an opportunity to appear before a national audience.

In both major parties, a simple majority of delegates chooses the presidential nominee. (Delegates routinely approve their presidential candidate’s choice for vice president.) In recent years, one candidate, through caucuses and primary elections, has always won a majority of delegates before the convention even starts. That means there’s little suspense over the presidential nominee, and the focus shifts to the convention’s other objectives.

If no candidate captures a majority, the delegates vote again … and again, until a winner is selected. This scenario has not occurred since 1952, but was common earlier in the 20th century. In 1924, Democrats needed 103 ballots to nominate John W. Davis for president. (He lost.)

While state party rules govern how delegates vote, generally they must vote on the first ballot for the candidate they are “pledged” to and may change their support after that.

The vote itself is a highlight. The states report their tallies in alphabetical order. One delegate reports the totals for that state. Many use the occasion to offer the nation a colorful description of their state’s distinctive contributions to the national fabric. Thus:

“Madam Secretary, I’m proud to lead the Alabama delegation. Alabama is on the move! Three national football championships in the last three years. [Some booing from other state delegations.] A leader in transportation technology. Three world-class manufacturing plants and a new jet plant just announced…”

Because each party represents a diverse coalition of interests, a successful convention is one that unites those interests around a common goal: electing the next president!