The United States is a representative democracy. Every so often (2 years for the House of representatives, 6 years for a Senator, and 4 years for the President) we hold elections to choose these representatives.
In the United States, we have two major parties: The Democrats and the Republicans.
The Democrats stand for strong social freedom and supporting the less fortunate members of society. The believe in a stronger federal government that keeps every state on the right path.
The Republicans believe in individual freedom, and that every person should stand on their own, and “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”. They look for a small federal government, as each State should be able to govern itself and make decisions that follow the desires of, and benefit, their citizens.
There are other parties, like the Green Party or the Libertarians, but they make up a very small minority of the representatives in the federal government.
Since anyone can run for office, in order to keep things more simple, we have primaries. If we didn’t the ballot could contain hundreds, if not thousands of names!
The primary is where voters can pick the best candidate for their party. Then, once all the states have cast their ballots, the party meets in a Party Convention, and officially picks the one candidate that they want to run for president. They are picked by delegates, who are chosen to represent the people at the convention. They are bound to vote for the candidate at the convention, however other “non-pledged delegates” do not have to vote for a certain candidate. In the democratic party, these are called “superdelegates”, and they can wildly swing the results of an election, as was the case with Bernie Sanders.
Then comes the general election. This is a head to head between the nominees for each party, in this case Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump. The winner of this election then becomes the next President of the United States.
But this is pretty simple, the person who gets the most votes will win right?
Wrong! America was built on distrust of authority and equality. Why should the voices of people from Montana, an entire state with 1 million people, be equal to San Jose, California?
Because of this, our system is weird. We have a system called the electoral college, where each state gets a number of votes equal to the amount of representatives they have in Congress: namely 2 (as each state has only 2 senators regardless of size), plus the number of representatives they have in the House of Representatives, which is proportional to population. This makes a grand total of 535, plus an additional 3 for Washington DC. A candidate needs 270 to clinch the election and become president.