When Is The U.S. Election? A Brief Explainer How America Votes

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The end is near — well, at least it is for this latest iteration of the U.S. election cycle.

This year, Americans will head to the polls on Nov. 8 — following a long tradition of election days being held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, every four years.

There are two main candidates vying to be the 45th president of the United States, though Green and Libertarian party representatives are also on the ballot in many states.

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U.S. presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton listen to a question from a member of the audience during their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis on Oct. 9. (Photo:Saul Loeb/Reuters/Pool)

Recent polls suggest Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton continues to maintain her lead ahead of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump. But how big or narrow the space between the two varies according to each pollster.

For example, three weeks before election day, an MSNBC poll suggests Clinton to be ahead of Trump with an 11-point lead. But polling from the Washington Post/ABC News released the day before suggests the former secretary of state to be ahead of the real estate mogul by only four points.

Lesser-known candidates such as Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein are also on some ballots, but they have been polling with single-digit support.

How does one become president, anyway?

There are some minimum constitutional requirements for presidential candidates: they must be natural-born citizens, at least 35 years old and be a U.S. resident for 14 years.

One of the quirks of the U.S. system is that there is no independent body equivalent to Elections Canada to oversee and conduct federal general elections.

Each state legislature is responsible for regulating its voters.

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A demonstrator waves an American flag on Dec. 1, 2000 outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington,D.C. (Photo: Justin Lane/Liaison)

To complicate matters, winning the popular vote doesn’t determine who wins the presidency. The drama surrounding the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore is an example of just that.

Despite winning the popular vote, Gore lost the presidency after a close count of votes forced the Supreme Court to intervene and decide who would win Florida’s electors — and the presidency.

Wait, what are ‘electors’?

When registered American voters cast their ballots on Nov. 8, they determine which candidate receives their state’s electors.

This system is in place today thanks to the country’s founding fathers, who decided it would be a satisfactory compromise that the president be elected by popular vote as well as Congress.

The number of electors varies between states, and is determined by how many members the state has in Congress (House of Representatives and Senate). It’s winner-take-all in 48 states.

How electoral votes are distributed across America:

So for example, if one candidate wins a majority in, say, California, he or she would take all of the state’s 55 electors.

Only two states, Nebraska and Maine, use proportional representation.

There are 538 electors in total in this system, dubbed the U.S. Electoral College.

435 representatives

100 senators

+ 3 District of Columbia electors

538 electors

The next president of the U.S. will be determined by who wins a majority of electoral votes — 270 is the magic number — in the Electoral College.

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