Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC


Rethinking America’s electoral system

      WHY IN NEWS:

What is the debate around the poll process and why are questions being raised about its viability?



For PRELIMS a few facts of America’s constitution are present in Laxmikant’s Polity . Here we have covered a little more in depth .

For MAINS go through Loopholes , African-Americans voting power , Women’s electoral power’s in U.S. Read it carefully .Let us dive in !



  • In a democracy the constitutional structure and electoral laws provide the basic framework within which the nation’s political life functions.

An understanding of the constitutional and electoral components is required to fully comprehend the political dynamics of any democracy.

  • The 2020 U.S. presidential election has been one of the most bitterly polarised democratic exercises in recent memory.

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC


  • The winner, Democrat and former Vice-President Joe Biden, has won over 74 million votes, and his rival,Donald Trump, has garnered over 70 million votes.
  • The fact that this election has seen one of the highest turnout numbers since 1960 suggests that voters and both campaigns pushed hard to get their chosen candidate elected.
  • Despite the presence of both a ‘blue wave’ and a ‘red wave’, the final outcome came down to the wire.

This hinged on narrow vote margins in a handful of ‘swing States’.

  • These circumstances have fuelled anger over the lack of direct representation in the electoral system.
  • This also has raised questions surrounding the viability of the institution, the ‘Electoral College’, that renders the popular vote insufficient to determine the victor.


  • American citizens do not directly make governmental decisions. They elect officials to govern for them.
  • Most elections in our country are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
  • But elections for public offices may be held at any time, depending on state law.

When the Constitution was written in 1787, it basically left the decision to each state as to who could vote in elections. 


  • Most states did not at first give the right to vote to women or African Americans.

In 1870, five years after the end of the Civil War, the 15th Amendment was passed. 

  • This amendment guaranteed the right to vote to male African Americans.
  • However, it took another 100 years for African Americans to be able to fully exercise this right.
  • In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act.
  • This law guaranteed that the federal government would intervene if any state attempted to deny a citizen’s voting rights because of race.
  • As a result of this act, millions of African Americans in the South were allowed to register to vote for the first time.


  • American women were not allowed to vote at the national level until 1920.

The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed that year, and the following November millions of American women voted in the presidential election for the first time.  

  • The 26th Amendment to the Constitution, adopted in 1971, says that anyone over 18 is allowed to vote.
  • On the average, about 60% of voting-age Americans vote in presidential elections. For local elections, voter turn out is usually much lower.

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC


  • The Electoral College refers to the process by which the winner of the popular vote in each State is allocated a pre-specified number of electors, per U.S. State.

These electors go on to decide who the President of the country will be.

  • The electors of each State are appointed by the Democratic and Republican Parties (and third parties, where applicable) of the State.
  • The college follows a winner-takes-all rule for the popular vote, giving the first candidate past the post all of the electors of that State.

If more than 50% of the voters in North Carolina vote for the Republican Party, then all the electors allocated to that State will be Republican.

  • Each State has the same number of electors as it does members in its Congressional delegation.

Each state namely has one for each member in the House of Representatives and two Senators.

  • Across the U.S., there are 538 electors.
  • To win the presidency, a candidate would be required to secure at least 270 votes in the Electoral College.


  • No political parties officially existed when the U.S. Constitution was written in the late 1780s.

The founders of the country actually felt that political parties were not a good thing and that they would divide people against each other and harm the democracy. 

However within 10 years after the Constitution was written, the U.S. had two major political parties–

  1. The Federalist party that was a proponent of a strong central government
  2. The Democratic-Republican party (also called the Anti-Federalist Party) that supported strong state governments.

The Democratic-Republican party eventually became known as the Democratic party.

  • The Whig party developed in the 1830s in opposition to President Andrew Jackson and his policies.
  • The Whig party eventually split apart, mainly over the issue of slavery.
  • Proslavery Whigs rejoined the Democratic party and many antislavery Whigs formed a new party in 1854 called the Republican party.
  • Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president.
  • Today, the Democrats and Republicans remain the two leading parties in our country.
  • However, there are other political parties too .

The Independent Party, the Reform Party, the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Socialist Party, the Populist Party, and others.


  • When you vote for a mayor, senator, a member of the House of Representatives, a judge, etc. you are voting directly for that person.
  • However, when you vote for president, you are really voting for an elector who has pledged to represent that candidate.

The electors chosen by each state are called the electoral college.

  • They are a group of people who officially elect the president and vice president.
  • Each state has as many votes in the electoral college as it has senators(EX: Rajya Sabha) and members of the House of Representatives.(Lok Sabha)

Utah has 2 senators and 3 members of the House of Representatives–so it has 5 electoral votes.

  • Large states like California have more than 50 electoral votes.
  • States small in population like Alaska only have 3 electoral votes.
  • To be elected, a presidential candidate must put together enough states in the election to get a majority (more than half of the total) of the electoral college.

Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC


  • The electoral college meets officially in December. Its votes are sealed and sent to the U.S. Senate.
  • When the Congress meets in January, the current vice president of the United States unseals the envelope and announces the results to the Senate.
  • This is the official moment at which the president and vice president are really elected.


The minor exceptions are Maine and Nebraska, which appoint individual electors based on the winner of the popular vote for each Congressional district .

  • The two electors are based on the winner of the overall State-wide popular vote.

Although it is rare for either State to have a split vote, that occurred in Nebraska in 2008 and in Maine in 2016.

  • Once the votes are in, the electors are required to meet on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December.
  • On these days they meet to cast ballots for the President and the Vice-President.
  • Howsoever rare, the electors have surprised the college by picking another candidate than the one they were pledged to choose.

These electors are known as “faithless electors”.


  • At the broadest level, there are two reasons why the Electoral College, as a mechanism for representing the will of the people, might be considered suboptimal.
  • Firstly, under this system, surprisingly few voters truly matter in an election.

The reason is that except for a handful of ‘swing States’, which have the potential to flip from one party to the other.

  • All the others have historically only voted for the same party, and are likely to do so this time too.

Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin.

  • Not all voters in these States would likely be independent or undecided voters, capable of switching votes from one candidate to another.
  • The proportion of voters actually determining the outcome of the U.S. presidential election well below 10% of the total population.

The Electoral College also comes packaged with complex and potentially self-defeating contingency proceedings in unusual election circumstances.

  • If Mr. Biden had not obtained an undisputed majority of Electoral College votes, a ‘contingent election’ might have had to be held. #12th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Under this system, the election of the President would have become the responsibility of the House of Representatives.
  • This would also happen in a scenario where legal cases filed by the Trump campaign delay the confirmation of the final result.
  • According to the Congressional record, only two presidential elections have been decided in the House, in 1800 and 1824 respectively.

      IASbhai WINDUP: 


  • Some among the framers of the U.S. Constitution were of the view that Congress ought to elect the President.
  • The other constitutional makers preferred that the power rest with State legislators or Governors.

Electors would serve as informed intermediaries between the masses and their government .-James Wilson(founding father)

  • This also means that electoral college have independence to break from the popular vote in their States when they deemed that necessary.
  • Presidents would be “characters preeminent for ability and virtue” and not merely adept at “the little arts of popularity”.
     SOURCES:  THE IE | Explained : America’s Electoral System of 2020 | UPSC



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