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Basics for EU: When will we know the new US President?

Credit: Belga

Since the first in-person votes were cast in the early hours of Tuesday the United States officially went to the polls to decide whether to re-elect President Donald Trump or to send former vice-President Joe Biden back to the White House.

As the American elections were perhaps slightly pushed to the side on the international stage by the ongoing coronavirus, many Europeans could be forgiven for just starting to follow the election now as we enter into the final stages.

A passive follower might think they’d need a huge amount of information get up to speed with the vote, but we have you covered. Here are the very basics you needed to follow along, and more importantly – when we can expect to know the outcome.

The first thing to understand is America’s voting system. US citizens do not vote for the candidates themselves. Instead, the United States has an electoral college.

“Each state elects the number of representatives to the Electoral College that is equal to its number of Senators—two from each state—plus its number of delegates in the House of Representatives,” the US embassy in the UK explains on its website.

That means that not every state has the same weight in the election. For example, California has 55 electoral college votes, while the much smaller state of Maine has four electoral college votes.

As there are 538 electoral votes in total, a presidential candidate needs 270 electoral votes to win.

Technically, it would have been possible to know the results as early as Wednesday morning in Belgium. In the 2016 presidential election between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes at 2:30 AM ET (8:30 AM Brussels time) on Wednesday.

This year, that will not be the case, however, as at the same time this year, neither candidate has reached the required 270 votes.

What this means is that we face a situation tinged with far less certainty, as most American media show a much closer race between Trump and Biden, the latter leading with 238 electoral college votes to Trump’s 213 as of 10:00 AM Belgian time.

This means that, for timing, an eventual result could come in the coming hours, days, or – in an outward change – weeks.

“Because each state has its own rules for how votes are counted and reported, some will report results sooner than others,” writes FiveThirtyEight.

Furthermore, a record number of voters has voted early in this election – 99,657,079 voters, according to the US Elections Project database of the University of Florida -, and those early votes take longer to count.

Some states like Alaska (18 November) and New Jersey (20 November) having particularly late deadlines for the final results, and the state of New York has a deadline of 28 November.

Trump tweeted earlier that “we are up big but they are trying to steal the election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!

In reality, with this race, it is hard to predict when either candidate will reach 270 electoral votes, whether that’s today or weeks from now.

Jason Spinks & Jules Johnston
The Brussels Times