As the Obama administration prepares to fly the coop following eight years in leadership, a new president will soon roost in the Oval Office.
The new leader, either pant-suited-up, or determined to make the toupee great again, will control the most powerful nation and military on earth.
With the US presidential election less than one week away, it’s time to start caring y’all.
Here’s the guide to the 2016 election in the land of the free and home of the fries.
When is the election?
The election will take place on Tuesday, November 8, almost two years after campaigning began. The 45th President of the US will be inaugurated on January 20, 2017.
What happens on the day?
About 120 million US citizens are expected to attend polling booths across all 50 states – just 60 per cent of those eligible and registered to vote. Six time zones will accommodate 6 or 7am starting times, beginning with Eastern Time (observed by states on the American East Coast) and progressing across the country to 7am Pacific Daylight Time in California.
Polls close in each zone at 7 or 8pm. In larger states, like Iowa and North Dakota, polls stay open until 9pm.
How long will it take for us to know the result?
As election day is a US public holiday, voters will trickle in throughout the day to exercise their democratic right. Presidential nominees Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump will most likely both cast their votes in New York City. In an odd quirk of presidential election history it is only the fourth time that the two candidates are from the same state.
As of October 30, over 21 million people have pre-polled. The first state projections will be released based on exit polls at 7pm ET. Exit polls merely give an indication of actual voting preferences and thus are not entirely reliable (as demonstrated by Brexit exit polls which indicated a majority Stay vote earlier this year).
US television networks may choose to call the election result by 11pm ET, depending on the speed of counting and/or the closeness of the voting in swing states. When a clear winner surges forward, Mrs Clinton and Mr Trump will address their supporters, in victory or defeat, congratulating the opposing candidate. (Well, that’s the tradition, but Mr Trump has hinted that he will not be a gracious loser, if lose he does.)
Unless the poll is an absolute cliffhanger we should know who’s heading for the White House by early afternoon Australian time on Wednesday, November 9.
How does the US voting system work?
The Democrats and Republicans select their presidential candidate from within their own party through a drawn-out elimination process involving primary elections and caucus votes. In the caucus votes party officials and committee members decide who will be their candidate. The primaries, held in most states, are full-scale elections in which party supporters compete for a state’s support.
Registered Democrat or Republican voters are eligible to vote for the candidate of their choice. It is a complex process in which delegates are appointed to vote for specific candidates at the respective parties’ national conventions.
On November 8, when 200,081,377 million registered voters are eligible to cast their ballots for a presidential candidate (voting is not compulsory for the approximately 240 million citizens eligible to vote based on the 2012 census), their individual vote will not go directly towards their candidate of choice. Rather, their vote will determine which candidate their state electors supports. The state electors, known as the Electoral College, determine the fate of the presidency on behalf of America’s 317 million citizens.
Each state is awarded a number of state electors – equal to its combined number of congressmen (senators and lower house representatives). Each state has two senators; their representation in the House of Representatives depends upon population. In short, a bigger state population means more state electors.
For example, the state of California has 55 electors, reflecting the votes of its fifty-five million residents, The state of Kentucky’s eight electors represent their four-and-a-half million residents. Each state has a minimum of three electors.
It’s a winner-take-all system, so if your party receives a majority, even by the smallest of margins, it gains all the respective electoral votes. This is why whole states are deemed blue (the Democratic Party’s colour) or red (for Republican).
In total, there are 538 electoral votes up for grabs, so a candidate needs to garner the magic number of 270 electoral votes to become president of the United States.
The swing states
These are states where preferences are too close to call so voting could go either way. The candidates direct a lot of their campaigning to the swing states because those will be crucial to win the election. The swing states include Florida, Ohio, Maine and Colorado.
Florida is the biggest, with 29 electors, and could be pivotal for the winner. In previous elections the candidate who won Ohio has always won the presidential election. Opinion polls suggest Mr Trump is trailing Mrs Clinton in some previously safe Republican states that are now considered swing states.
16 Republicans and five Democratic presidential hopefuls have dropped out of primary races to determine their parties’ candidate after failing to win broad support.
Donald Trump is an American businessman and reality TV personality. In 1980, he became New York’s best known developer after opening the Grand Hyatt hotel. In June 2015, Mr Trump announced his plan to run for presidency. On July 19 2016, he was formally nominated as the Republican Party’s candidate and named Mike Pence as his running mate.
Mr Trump’s campaign slogan is too “Make America Great Again” and focused on trade, cyber-security, national defence and energy. The Republican made numerous controversial comments during his year-long campaign, the major being the building of an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful” wall on the US-Mexico border to block illegal immigration into the US.
Recently a video emerged of Mr Trump from 2005 where he bragged about sexually assaulting women and at least a dozen women have come forward with allegations against Mr Trump, accusing him of sexual misconduct and making inappropriate and lewd comments.
Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and politician, a former First Lady, senator and secretary of state. She’s married to Bill Clinton, who was president from 1993-2001, and she represented New York State as a senator from 2001-2009. She tried running for president in 2008 but lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, then served as President Obama’s Secretary of State from 2009-2013. In 2015, she again ran for the nomination, becoming the first woman in US history to be named as a major party’s candidate. She chose Tim Kaine as her running mate.
Clinton’s campaign centres on multiple societal and economic issues including a fairer tax system, disability rights, LGBT rights and equality, racial justice, more manufacturing and mental health services. Her campaign slogans are “I’m with Her” and “Strong Together”.
Her campaign has also been dogged by controversy over her deletion of 30,000 emails from a private server while Secretary of State. Wikileaks has leaked the contents of many of her private emails but the FBI initially said she had committed no offence. That controversy has returned after the FBI discovered a trove of emails potentially including the deleted material and reopened its investigation.
Three other relatively unknown candidates remain in the race for the presidency: Evan McMullin, Garry Johnson and Jill Stein.
Mr McMullin, a former CIA man, who is running as an independent, has said Americans have lost faith in the major parties, deserve better than what Clinton and Trump will offer and that it’s time for a new generation of leadership.
Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, who is running as a Libertarian also contested the 2012 election. He argues that the two major parties should not alone hold the power to represent the principles and ideas of Americans.
Jill Stein, a physician, activist and politican, who is running as a Green, is pushing people, the planet and peace ahead of profit and also ran in 2012.
At the time of writing, polls show that Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton are neck-and neck. – Sinéad Fogarty, Nikolina Matijevic, Alicia Camilleri and Samantha Besgrove
Graphic illustrations by Ian Qu.