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America Decides

Today, in polling places across the US, my fellow Americans will be pulling levers, ticking boxes, or punching cards to indicate their preferences in a raft of local, state, and national political offices—including the office of President. Those of us living overseas sent in our ballots a few weeks ago; they’ll be counted, along with the votes cast today, at around lunchtime here.

Here’s a brief break-down of what’s up for grabs today on the national stage:

House of Representatives: There are 435 voting members of the House of Representatives, with each state represented according to their share of the national population (eg. California, the most populous state, has 53 Representatives, while less populated states like Alaska have one each). Each state is divided into electoral districts, each of which elects one Representative in a first-past-the-post election every two years. All of these 435 seats are up for election tomorrow.

Senate: There are 100 members of the Senate, with each state represented by two Senators. These senators are elected in state-wide, first-past-the-post elections every six years. Every two years roughly a third of the seats in the Senate are up for election. There will be elections for 33 Senate seats tomorrow.

President: Americans elect a President—and his/her running mate as Vice President—every four years. Electing a President of the United States is a little complicated because of the Electoral College, which essentially makes the Presidential race one that relies not on individual votes but on the outcomes of state elections. Each state has accorded to it a certain number of electoral votes. There are 538 electoral votes in total: one each for each of the voting members of the House of Representatives (435) and each Senator (100) plus three for Washington, DC, which does not have any voting representation in Congress. The number of electoral votes each state gets aligns with its representation in Congress; this means that each state gets at least three electoral votes (one for its Representative, and two for its Senators). In most states, the winner of the popular vote in that state gets all of the state’s electoral votes. This means that, say, 51% of the voters in Ohio select Obama for President, Obama gets all of Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. The winner of the election is the candidate who can get an absolute majority of the electoral votes: 270. It is possible for a candidate to win a majority of the nationwide popular vote but lose the election.

Now that you’re all up to speed on what’s going down, here are a few links that I’ll be clicking regularly to check in with the progress of the election:

Washington Post: live video and real-time results from the paper that all of Capital Hill reads

The Fix:  the Washington Post’s politics blog—a great source of Election Day analysis

New York Times Election 2012: interactive election maps charting the progress of the races for President, Senate, and the House from the “paper of record”

The Daily Show’s Election Center: for those inclined to a more satirical bent in their election coverage

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