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US Election 2020: Your most pressing questions answered


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Media captionReaders around the world are asking the BBC their questions about the upcoming US election.

We’ve been asking you, our readers, for your most pressing questions about the upcoming US election.

Thanks to everyone who’s already written in – and we hope to hear from more of you, both in the US and around the world.

Now, it’s our turn to start giving you some answers.

Johnny White, 53, from Ireland, and Shiv Nair, 68, from India, asked: Can the president refuse to leave office if he loses the election – and if he claims it was rigged?

In essence, Trump can refuse to leave, but it won’t do much. It’s worth noting that many US legal analysts can’t see him sticking around after a flat-out loss.

But, since we’ve gotten quite a few questions on this, let’s play around with this scenario.

Say Trump clearly loses the election, and Biden is the obvious winner. If Trump refuses to leave the Oval Office on Inauguration Day (20 January), he won’t have much power to do anything else but hunker down.

The military, Secret Service and other officials – including the keeper of the briefcase of nuclear codes – go to the new president at noon, per the US Constitution.

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(Some of you have also asked us if Trump could be arrested for refusing to leave – while technically yes, it’s unlikely to happen.)

Things get tricky if Trump refuses to leave and he’s not the clear loser.

It’s Congress who declares a winner based on the electoral college votes. If there’s a tie, or the election is otherwise contested (like disagreements within a state’s own government about who the electoral college electors should vote for), it’s up to lawmakers in the House to decide who wins the presidency and the Senate to declare the vice-president.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley has already told Congress the military won’t get involved if the election is contested.

If Congress can’t point to a clear winner, we’re heading into a rather nightmarish scenario that could end with a Supreme Court verdict, like the Bush v Gore 2000 battle.

With the recent passing of liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, this is in part why Trump and his Republicans are trying to push through her conservative replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, before the election.

Charles Solomon, 68, from Canada asks: If Biden wins, will Kamala Harris keep her seat?

Nope! She’ll give up her California Senate seat for greener pastures, just as Biden did back in 2009, when he handed over his spot in the upper chamber to join Obama in the White House.

And remember, if the Democrats win, it will be historic. Harris will be the first black and Indian woman to hold an office this high in the US… ever.

And what’s to become of the empty Senate seat? If Harris becomes our vice-president-elect, California Governor Gavin Newsom (also a Democrat) will choose a lucky lawmaker to replace her.

Macnos Mutano, 23, from Australia asks: Why can the electoral college override the popular vote?

Electoral college. Electoral college. Electoral college. We’ve received hundreds of questions from all of you, and the most common query is about this controversial part of the US election system. It’s a source of confusion and contention here too.

When US voters go to the polls, they aren’t directly voting for the candidates. They’re voting for “electors” – people who represent their candidate’s party. The number of electors each state gets depends on how many lawmakers it has in Congress – and remember, House of Representatives seats are population-based, while every state gets two Senators.

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For example, California has 55 electoral college votes whereas Wyoming only has three, and it all adds up to a total of 538 electors. So, in this system, not all states are created equal.

Watch this handy video to understand how the electoral college works.

If we assume that states like California go to the Democrats and most southern states, like Georgia, go to the Republicans, the election really comes down to a few battleground or “swing” states – like Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina.

After Election Day, Congress counts the electors’ votes and then declares a winner. If there’s a tie, lawmakers have the final say.

But why come up with this complicated system in the first place? Back when the Founding Fathers were figuring out this democracy thing, they needed to come up with a compromise between states rights, Congress and the popular vote.

Why not just go with the popular vote? Well for one, it was rather unheard of at the time and some lawmakers felt the uneducated masses weren’t best suited to pick their president.

Another reason was linked to slavery, to boost the power of white voters in pro-slavery states.

  • If you want all the nitty-gritty details, you can read our full electoral college explainer here: How you can be US president without winning most votes
  • And if you’re interested in battleground states, try our predict a president quiz here: Who will be the next US president? You decide

Lindsay Stewart, 37, from the UK asks: Is the electoral college system still fit for purpose today or does it unfairly skew the result?

Good question. As it stands now, the more populous states (like California and Texas) are more underrepresented by the college than lower population states, which some people say is not fair because it gives states where fewer people live more electoral power.

All but two states say it’s winner-take-all for their electoral votes, so whoever gets the most votes gets all the electoral college votes too, whether that’s a difference of one vote or one thousand. In 2016, this is how Trump was able to win big hitters in the electoral college like Florida and Wisconsin even though his popular vote margin was slim.

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Essentially, this means much of the battle for the White House takes place in a handful of competitive states that could swing either way. There’s no need for candidates to waste time campaigning in states that will surely go to one party. (Again, try our predict the president battleground states game. It’s fun, promise.)

For decades, there’s been a steady amount of support among the public to nix this system, according to the Pew Research Center. Right now, around 58% want to ditch it – but notably, attitudes have grown increasingly partisan since 2016, with more Republicans saying they support the system just like it is.

One suggestion that’s been floated to fix this dissonance between the electoral college and popular vote is to award electors proportionally instead. But any changes to this voting system will need signing off from both two-thirds of Congress and three-fourths of the states – which is nearly impossible.

Falak Choksi, 27, from India asks: How will a Trump loss affect foreign relationships with countries like India, where Trump has a good relation with leaders like Modi?

Trump and Modi have certainly been buddy-buddy for the cameras – but Biden’s got a history of supporting US-India relations too from his Obama-era days.

Here’s a look at what the policies of a Biden-Harris administration might be.

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It’s likely that the Democrats will be more keen on calling out rights issues with Kashmir – something Trump officials have largely steered clear of. Biden’s agenda specifically says the Indian government ought to restore rights to people in the region. Kamala Harris (whose mother was Indian) has also criticised Modi’s response to Kashmir.

The US-India relationship has had ups and downs in the past, but let’s also recall that during Obama’s visit in 2015, he and Modi signed a declaration of friendship. Biden’s likely to want a similar partnership, particularly given his running mate’s ties to India.

In general, he’s made rebuilding relationships with allies a key part of his platform.

On a more concrete policy front, Biden has also pledged to revoke the Trump-era restrictions on visas and immigration. He’s called for strengthening India’s capabilities as a “counter-terrorism partner” as well as co-operating in other areas like education, humanitarian goals and space exploration.

What’s all this about?

The US election is complicated – but if you’ve got questions, we can find the answers.

We want you, our readers, to help guide our election coverage, and that’s why we’re launching the US Election Your Questions Answered project.

All it takes is filling out a form to send us your queries about anything and everything election-related, from how the electoral college works to the finer points of policy.

We’ll turn your submissions into content that tackles the issues you care about, and at the end of the day, everyone’s learned something new. And if you’re a US voter, we also invite you to join our voter panel.

If all this sounds good to you, let’s get started.

Send us your questions using the form below. If you can’t see the forms, you may need to view the site on a desktop.

What questions do you have about the US election?

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