The U.S. presidential election is a race to the Oval Office between, in most cases, one candidate from the Democratic Party and one candidate from the Republican Party. Although we may feel as though the process really is that simple and straightforward, the truth is anything but. The first thing we have to remember is that the U.S. presidential race is an indirect election that utilizes what is called the “Electoral College”. This means that when voters cast their ballots, they are not directly voting for a candidate, but instead for “electors” who have pledged their vote for one candidate in advance. Another complication is that individual states retain most of the control over election processes and voting methods, while the federal government’s involvement is rather limited. Of the 50 states that make up the United States, 48 of them employ a “winner-take-all” method. In other words, the candidate who wins an absolute majority of a state’s allocated electorate votes will then win the votes of all electors for that state. The two exceptions to this rule are Maine and Nebraska, where candidates win the votes of electors allocated to each voting district. In the entire country, there are 538 electors; the candidate who wins a majority of 270 electoral votes is then elected president. If it so happens that no candidate wins an absolute majority, then a contingent election takes place in which the president is elected by a vote in the United States House of Representatives, and the vice president is elected by a vote in the United States Senate.
Just as election protocols are different from state to state, so are voting procedures. In 5 states – Colorado, Hawaii, Washington, and Oregon – mail-in ballots are accepted as the default method of voting. In 22 states, including California and Florida, mail-in ballots are available upon request. In every other state, mail-in ballots are not accepted without a valid reason, for example if you will be unable to vote in person on election day. And while there are provisions for digitally submitted ballots, for example by email, fax or some other online method, these are limited to ex-pats living abroad or individuals stationed abroad related to military activities (especially those deployed to dangerous areas).