Election is a concept where the people elect their representatives to make major decision on their behalf that directly or indirectly affect their life. Candidate obtaining the most votes is considered a winner.
But U.S works very differently when it comes to electing their President. When voters are electing a president, they are actually deciding who their State votes for.
Term: President of The Unites States (POTUS) will be elected once every four years. Election Day: Once every four years (First Tuesday of the month of November). Unofficial results will be available on election night from each state providing a projection of who could be the winner.
Certification: Each State certifies the winner of Presidential race from their State. Whoever wins most votes (also known as Popular Vote) in a particular State will be certified as winner of that State.
Confirmation: House Representatives and Senate votes for the President chosen by their State’s voters. Candidate who wins 270 or more electoral colleges will be declared as a winner.
Inauguration: Current President’s term expires noon of Jan 20th the following year (roughly 10 weeks after election day). New President elect will be sworn in.
Currently U.S have 538 Electoral colleges. The number of electors represents the 100 U.S. senators (two per state), 435 U.S. representatives and 3 electors for the District of Columbia (DC).
Electoral college is distributed to each State based on their population. Heavily populated States such as California (55), Texas (38), Florida (29), New York (29), and Pennsylvania (20) carries more Electoral college. Winner of popular vote in that State takes all Electoral college the State offers.
It doesn’t matter who won a single county or jurisdiction in a particular State. Victory margin doesn’t matter either. The candidate receiving most votes in that State earns all the electoral college from that State. In other words, “winner takes all” approach is followed when offering electoral college to a winning candidate.
In 2016 U.S elections, Donald Trump won maximum votes as a presidential candidate in Texas. 38 Electoral college Texas has to offer was given to Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton won maximum votes as a presidential candidate in California. 55 Electoral college California has to offer was given to Hillary Clinton.
The candidate winning 270+ electoral college will be declared as a winner. The winner of 270+ electoral college will be addressed as President-Elect.
Each State have their own process of running their elections. Depending on the time it takes for the State to count all incoming ballots, the certification process will take anywhere between one to three weeks.
Depending on State’s laws, when the race is too tight, say, the victory margin ranges below 2%, recount or tally will be triggered automatically. Also, the candidates have the right to demand a recount. Once the recount is complete, the State can certify the elections and declare the winner of the State.
Now, every state has completed their counting and certified the elections, the decision must now be made official. Roughly after 4 weeks from the election day, Electors from all 50 states will meet to officially vote for the President. Usually, political parties at the state level takes charge of choosing electors. The U.S. Constitution does not dictate who gets to be an elector, though it does not allow any U.S. senators or representatives, or people holding an office of trust or profit under the United States.
By law, the votes must align with their State’s selection. i.e. Irrespective of the elector’s political affiliation, the winner of the State’s Presidential elections must be selected by the Legislators representing the State. Many states have laws on the books requiring electors to honor their pledge to the state’s popular vote winner. The winner of the popular vote in each state gets the state's electoral votes.
Roughly 10 weeks after the election day, after noon of Jan 20th, the president-elect will be sworn-in and takes charge as President of The United States.