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US elections: Little known facts and forgotten figures

US President Barack Obama smiles as he speaks during a campaign rally in Fairfax, Virginia. Photo: Reuters

Why do Americans vote on a Tuesday and who was a peanut farmer before taking office? Some of the little-known facts about US elections...

Presidential elections in the United States are always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, a tradition that dates back to 1845, a time when Americans still travelled by horse and carriage. Voters needed the Monday to get to their voting location.

Despite the election taking place on the first Tuesday in November, the president does not take office until noon on January 20 of the following year.

There have been 538 electoral votes in each presidential election since 1960. A candidate must win a majority of those votes (270) to win the election.

Voters cast their ballots at a Franklin County polling location on the first day of in-person absentee voting in Columbus, Ohio. Credit: Reuters

While an elector in the Electoral College is supposed to vote in accordance with his state’s voters, he may not always do so. For example, a West Virginia elector in 1988 chose to vote for Lloyd Bentsen instead of Michael Dukakis, the candidate who had carried the state.

According to census.gov, there are currently over 305 million people living in the United States of America. Of that figure, it is estimated that over 227 million people are over 18 and eligible to vote in a United States election

More than 58 million Americans tuned in to watch the first president debate between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney take part in the first presidential debate. Credit: Reuters

Barack Obama is the nation's 44rd president but in reality there have only been 43 presidents. Grover Cleveland is counted twice as the 22nd and 24th president because he was elected for two non-consecutive terms.

Barack Obama takes the oath of office in 2008. Credit: Douliery/Hann/ABACAUSA.COM

According to procon.org, in the 2008 presidential election, candidates and interest groups spent an estimated $2.6 billion on political advertising.

To be eligible to become President of the United States, the candidate must:

  • Be a natural-born citizen of the United States
  • Be over 35
  • Have resided in the United States for at least 14 years

The oldest president inaugurated was Ronald Reagan (aged 69); the youngest was John F. Kennedy (aged 43). Theodore Roosevelt, however, was the youngest man to become president - he was 42 when he succeeded William McKinley, who had been assassinated.

Former US President Ronal Reagan photographed in 1972. Credit: ITN

According to National Georgraphic, many Presidents had unusual careers before entering the White House. Jimmy Carter, the 39th President, was a peanut farmer. Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, was a movie actor. And Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President, once worked chopping rails for fences.

James Polk, the 11th President, was the first President to have his photograph taken.

Sarah Palin was the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee. Credit: Reuters

Only two women have ever won the nomination of a major party in a US presidential election: Geraldine Ferraro was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1984, and Sarah Palin was the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Former US President George Bush. Credit: ITN

Under the current US system it is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and still be elected president by the Electoral College. This has happened four times: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000.

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