11/09/2012 05:08 pm ET

Table Talk: Voting And The 2012 Election

This week's Family Dinner Table Talk, from HuffPost and The Family Dinner book:

Election Day takes place in the U.S. every November, but this past Tuesday was an especially important political "holiday": a presidential election.

Although citizens of all 50 states are eligible to take part in each presidential contest, the voting process doesn’t look the same for everyone. Depending on where people live and what their plans are on the day itself, they might vote early, vote by mail or vote in person (on paper or by machine).

Not all countries allow their citizens to vote, so the ability to have a direct say in how government works is a privilege -- even though it’s one not everyone decides to take advantage of. This year, voter turnout has been estimated at 132 million people. That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually less than 60 percent of eligible voters.

How is a winner in a presidential election determined? You might be surprised to find out that the candidate with the most votes isn’t automatically elected. Each state is assigned “electoral votes” based on the number of senators and representatives it sends to Washington -- for example, New York has 29 and California has 55 -- and when a candidate wins a particular state, all of its electoral votes go to him or her (Maine and Nebraska are the two exceptions; they can split their votes between candidates). No matter how many individual ("popular") votes he or she gets, a candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win.

This year, President Obama won both the electoral vote and the popular vote, beating former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 332 to 206 and 61,170,408 to 58,163,978. He will be sworn into office again officially on January 20th, 2013 -- and four years from now, the whole process will repeat itself all over again.

Questions for discussion:
  • Did you go to the polls with your parents?
  • Which political issues are important to you?
  • Who won the local elections in your area?
  • Who do you think will be running for president in 2016?
  • When will you be old enough to vote?

In her cookbook, The Family Dinner, Laurie David talks about the importance of families making a ritual of sitting down to dinner together, and how family dinners offer a great opportunity for meaningful discussions about the day's news. "Dinner," she says, "is as much about digestible conversation as it is about delicious food."

We couldn't agree more. So HuffPost has joined with Laurie and every Friday afternoon, just in time for dinner, our editors highlight one of the most compelling news stories of the week -- stories that will spark a lively discussion among the whole family.



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