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US election – how it works and what’s next?

The US General Election is around the corner. Here’s what investors can expect next.

Important notes

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

It’s less than a month until the US General Election on 3 November. Despite all the noise from both camps and President Trump contracting coronavirus, it’s important to understand it’s a strict, rules-based process.

It’s called a General Election because it’s not only the White House that’s being contested. So is one third of Senate seats, all of the House of Representatives, plus several State Governors and legislatures.

Voters don’t choose the President and Vice President tickets directly. Instead, after the popular vote, each state chooses members of a 540-strong Federal Electoral College, which decides the winner.

In 2016, the Electoral College was critical. Hillary Clinton was ahead in the opinion polls and won the nationwide popular vote by nearly three million. But she went on to lose the contest as Donald Trump won more Electoral College votes thanks to the large support of the swing states.

So what’s next?

This year

  • 22 October – Third and final TV debate.
  • 3 November – Voting. This year millions of voters have already voted in advance or in person, because of the virus. The rules on when and how people can vote vary by state. The actual voting process is managed by them.
  • 4 November – Starting around 7am UK time, the US media networks usually start to predict the winner based on the results from west coast states. For a lot of states, counting of ‘mail-in votes’, historically a small amount, doesn’t start until this date. This year the result could be much later as record amounts of mail-in votes are expected.
  • 8 December – ‘Safe harbour’ deadline. This is the day, according to the Electoral Count Act, by which states must resolve any difficulties counting their popular votes.
  • 14 December – Electoral College votes are officially allocated by states at ceremonies in their capitals.

2021

  • 6 January – Electoral College votes are formally counted at a joint session of Congress. The result is declared by the President of the Senate.
  • 20 January – Inauguration Day.

What happens if the President is incapacitated by illness?

Before the election, he remains as President unless he formally hands over power to the Vice President, though he can delegate day-to-day responsibilities. If he passes away or resigns, the Vice President automatically takes office for the remainder of the term.

After the election, if a victorious candidate stood down before Inauguration Day, then the Electoral College would choose their Vice-Presidential running mate to be sworn in as 59th President.

What happens if there are legal challenges?

President Trump has repeatedly said he believes postal votes are unreliable. Nobody knows exactly what would happen in the event of legal challenges. But the backstop date to resolve matters is Inauguration Day in January, when power must transfer. Ultimately, the Supreme Court would have to adjudicate on a serious dispute before then.

This article isn’t personal advice. If you're not sure what’s right for your circumstances, please ask for advice.

If you'd like more insight like this in future you can sign up to our weekly Editor's choice email below. We'll send our latest research straight to your inbox every Saturday morning.

The author is a partner at the Boscobel & Partners consultancy. Hargreaves Lansdown may not share the views of the author.


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    Important notes

    This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

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