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Civics in Action
August 2020

6 Things You Need to Know About Election 2020

 

 

By Laura Anastasia

Election Day is almost here! People across the country will vote on November 3. They will elect the president, the vice president, senators, representatives, and more. The results will have a big effect on our lives. Here’s what you need to know.

Election Day is almost here! On November 3, people across the country will cast votes for president, vice president, senators, representatives, governors, mayors, and more. The results will have a major impact on Americans’ everyday lives. Here’s what you need to know about the election.

1. Who is running for president?

1. Who is running for president?

There are two main candidates: U.S. President Donald Trump and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Trump is running for reelection. He is a Republican. Biden is a Democrat. They have very different ideas about how the country should be run. (Read about key campaign issues here.) Trump’s running mate is Vice President Mike Pence. Biden’s running mate is yet to be announced.

There are two major contenders: U.S. President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection as a Republican, and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is running as a Democrat. Biden and Trump have sharply differing views of how to deal with everything from health care to immigration. (Read more about the biggest campaign issues here.) Trump’s running mate is Vice President Mike Pence. Biden’s running mate is yet to be announced.

2. Who can vote?

2. Who can vote?

Voters need to be U.S. citizens. They must be at least 18 years old on Election Day. They also must live in the state in which they are voting. Most states require people to register, or sign up, to vote. Election officials use the information to check people’s identities when they vote.

Voters must be U.S. citizens, at least 18 years old on Election Day, and legal residents of the state in which they are voting. Most states also require voters to register. (Voter registration lets election officials verify a person’s identity and helps cut down on voter fraud, such as somebody trying to vote under someone else’s name.) About half of states also require voters to have lived in their state for several weeks before Election Day.

3. How is this election different from presidential elections in the past?

3. How is this election different from presidential elections in the past?

Presidential races are usually all over the news during an election year. But this election has not been. Many people have been focused on the coronavirus pandemic instead. Fears about the virus have also changed how the candidates campaign. Biden and Trump are holding online campaign events instead of in-person ones. They are depending more on the internet to reach voters than candidates have in the past.

Presidential races are typically front-page news throughout an election year. But Biden and Trump’s campaigns took a backseat to the Covid-19 pandemic this past spring. In addition, social distancing guidelines necessary to slow the spread of the virus eliminated traditional campaign staples, such as handshakes, rallies, and selfies with supporters. Both presidential candidates have opted for virtual town halls instead of in-person campaign events. They are also using social media and the internet to reach potential voters.

4. Why do the candidates focus more attention on certain states?

4. Why do the candidates focus more attention on certain states?

Voters in some states mainly support Democrats. Voters in other states mostly support Republicans. Candidates don’t worry too much about those states. Instead, they focus on what are known as “swing states.” Those are states where candidates from both parties have won in recent elections. Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin are swing states this time. Biden and Trump are spending a lot of money in those states—on things like running ads on the internet and TV—to win over voters.

Strategy! When it comes to voting, many states are predictable. Voters in some states primarily support Democrats. Voters in other states mostly support Republicans. Presidential candidates don’t want to spend much time or money in states they are either sure to win or don’t have any chance of winning. Instead, they focus on “swing states”—states where voters have flipped back and forth between the two parties in recent elections. (For example, Michigan voted Republican in the 2016 presidential election, but Democratic in the 2018 midterm elections.) In this election, most experts agree that Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Wisconsin are the most “flippable” states. As a result, those areas are seeing a lot of candidate attention, campaign ads, and voter outreach.

5. How might the Covid-19 pandemic affect voting?

5. How might the pandemic affect voting?

Many Americans will likely vote by mail, experts say. A handful of states, including Oregon, already run elections entirely by mail. Other states allow absentee voting. (Absentee voters ask for and turn in ballots before Election Day. They can do so in person or by mail.)

Many states allow absentee voting for any reason. Some are trying to make the process easier. Iowa, for example, plans to mail applications to all voters. Other states allow absentee voting in certain situations only—such as if voters will be away on Election Day. It is not clear whether that will change.

Traditional voting may still be an option, with limits on how many people can enter polling places at once. But experts predict many Americans will vote by mail-in or absentee ballot instead. (Absentee voters request and submit ballots—in person or by mail—before Election Day.) A handful of states, including Oregon and Washington, already conduct elections entirely by mail. Nearly two-thirds let residents vote by absentee ballot for any reason. Some of those states are trying to simplify the process for requesting absentee ballots. Iowa, for example, now plans to mail absentee ballot applications to all voters.

Still, some states permit absentee ballots in specific situations only—such as if voters will be away on Election Day—in part because of the extra costs of printing and counting such ballots. It is not yet clear whether that will change.

6. What other offices are up for election?

6. What other offices are up for election?

There are 35 U.S. Senate seats up for election. All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are also up for grabs. Republicans and Democrats both want those seats. The party with the most seats in each house gets the top leadership positions. That party can also affect which ideas for new laws are heard.

Also on Election Day, 11 states will vote for governor. Dozens of cities will pick mayors. Learn more about state and local elections in your area at usa.gov/election-office.

Some of the most closely watched races will be in Congress, where 35 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives will be up for grabs. Republicans currently hold a majority of seats in the Senate, and Democrats hold a majority in the House. But this election could shift that balance. That matters because the party with the most seats in each house gets the top leadership positions and can influence which bills (proposals for new laws) are considered. In addition, presidents tend to have more success implementing policies when their party holds the majority in Congress, because same-party lawmakers are more likely to support them.

In addition to the congressional races, 11 states will vote for governor and dozens of cities will pick mayors. (Check out what state and local positions are up for election in your area at usa.gov/election-office.)