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US election 2020 results: which states split their electoral votes & why?

While almost all of the US' 50 states hand out electoral-college votes on a winner-takes-all basis, two operate a congressional-district method.

Atlanta (United States), 05/11/2020.- Absentee ballots are processed and verified by the Fulton County Registration and Elections Department in a large room at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, 04 November 2020. The 2020 Presidential Election res

US Election 2020 live: Trump and Biden results | Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia... 

When it comes to winning a US presidential election, what matters is how many votes a candidate gets from what is known as the electoral college. Each state has a certain number of electoral-college votes to hand out, with their recipient determined by the result of the popular vote in that state.

With 538 electoral-college votes up for grabs - a figure that corresponds to the total number of members in the House of Representatives and the Senate - a minimum of 270 are needed to win the presidency.

Winner-takes-all system in every state but two...

Almost every state hands out its electoral-college votes on a winner-takes-all basis, meaning that the candidate who claims a majority in the popular vote - no matter how slim - takes home the lot.

The only exceptions to this are Maine and Nebraska. In these two states, a system known as the congressional-district method is used.

How does the congressional-district system work?

According to this method, electoral-college votes not only go to the winner of the popular vote across the state, but also to whoever comes out on top in each of its congressional districts.

In Maine, two votes are awarded to the overall winner, with one each also in play in its two congressional districts. In Nebraska, the victor in the popular vote likewise gets two electoral-college votes, while another is available to be won in each of its three congressional districts.

Why do Maine and Nebraska use this system?

Maine moved to the congressional-district method in 1972, in the wake of the 1968 presidential election between Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Hubert Humphrey and independent candidate George Wallace.

This three-way fight led to concern about a candidate being able to sweep a state’s electoral votes despite winning less than 50% of the popular vote, and Maine opted to revert to a split-vote system that it had also used for a time in the early 19th century.

In Nebraska, meanwhile, lawmakers chose to divide up its electoral-college votes in 1991 in a bid to motivate candidates to campaign in the state.

Because the Republicans so consistently win the popular vote in Nebraska - since 1936, the only Democrat to have triumphed there is Lyndon Johnson in 1964 - presidential contenders often didn’t bother going to the state in the run-up to elections.

Maine and Nebraska: potential tie-breakers

That a split-vote system allows a candidate to add to their electoral-vote count despite losing a state overall makes Maine and Nebraska potentially crucial in a particularly tight battle.

Indeed, ahead of this year’s election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden, observers were talking of the possibility of a 269-vote tie in the electoral college, adding that such a deadlock could be averted by the variable amount of electoral votes awarded to candidates in the two states.

Trump vs Biden: 2020 election results in Maine and Nebraska

However, Trump and Biden have both taken a vote each from Maine and Nebraska, respectively, cancelling out each state’s potentially tie-breaking status. A 269-269 electoral-vote split is therefore still technically possible, although results elsewhere mean the permutations now required make it extremely unlikely.

Maine: four electoral-college votes

2020 winner: Biden

Biden takes three electoral votes; Trump awarded one electoral vote

Nebraska: five electoral-college votes

2020 winner: Trump

Trump takes four electoral votes; Biden awarded one electoral vote

Live coverage of the US election

As votes continue to be counted in a handful of crucial battleground states, you can follow live updates on the latest developments in the race for the White House with our dedicated rolling feed.


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