What date is election day, what are the key swing states, and how does voting work?

What date is the 2020 US election and can Trump postpone it?

The election will be held on Tuesday, November 3. 

Donald Trump has already floated delaying it, in a tweet which suggested the rule changes making it easier for voters to us​e postal ballots in many states could lead to a “rigged election”. 

Mr Trump has argued that, despite using it himself in the past, mail-in voting is more open to fraud. Most election experts have questioned whether it is possible for postal voting to lead to widespread fraud, as Mr Trump claims, but have pointed out that an anticipated rise in postal voting could cause problems. 

The election date is not written into the US Constitution, so a delay is technically possible, but the Constitution does outline a date for the newly elected president’s inauguration in January.   

However, the power to change the election date lies with the US Congress, and the Democrats hold the majority in one chamber, the House of Representatives, making it extremely unlikely a delay would be approved.

The US Election in a nutshell

The American presidential elections are always held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Americans vote for people called “electors” in their state who are supporting the candidate they want to become president – this process is called the electoral college.

The more people who live in a state, the more electors there are for that state. So California for example, with a population of 38.8 million, has 55 votes – while Delaware, (population 936,000), has just three votes.

There are currently 538 electors in total, corresponding to the 435 Representatives (Congress men and women) and 100 Senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia. The Constitution prohibits any federal official, elected or appointed, from being an elector.

The candidate with the most electors wins all the state’s electoral college votes and the first candidate to win enough states to get to 270 electoral votes is elected to that office.

How does the electoral college work?

All 50 US states and Washington DC have a set number of “electors” in the electoral college – roughly proportionate to the size of each state. 

Each state gets at least three electoral votes because the amount is equal to its total number of Senators and Representatives in the US Congress. Washington DC also gets three electoral college votes, meaning a total of 538 electors form the Electoral College.

California, the largest state, has 55 electoral votes, Texas, the next largest, gets 38. New York and Florida have 29 each.

All but two states – Maine and Nebraska – use a winner-takes-all system, so if you win the most votes in a state, you take its entire haul of electoral college votes. 

To become president either candidate needs to win a majority of the 538 electors – i.e. 270 electors.

While the Constitution does not dictate that electors follow the popular vote, many US states have laws requiring them to do so. These laws have been challenged by electors voting for someone else on occasion, but in July, the US Supreme Court ruled that electors must follow the popular vote in states that have passed such a law.

The electoral college system does usually reflect the popular vote – presidents have won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote just five times in US history. The most recent instance was in 2016, when Donald Trump won the electoral college but Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent, won the popular vote.