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U.S. Elections — The U.S. Election Process explained

USA-Elections: The Election Process -- an Overview
USA-Elections: The Election Process — an Overview

Presidential, Senate and House (of Representative) Elections are three different things, three elections.

Based on the principle of the three branches of government, the President of the United States is the leader of the Executive Branch of the government. The political system in the USA is a parliamentary democracy.

In theory, he is being elected by the people of the nation, by the registered voters. Anyhow, technically it’s the Electoral College, which is determining the new president.
A U.S. president is elected for 4 years and can be reelected for one more term, meaning 8 years together (2 terms) at the most he/she can serve.

The president appoints the members of his Cabinet who do not sit in the legislature, as is the case under parliamentary systems of government. This is because, in the U.S., the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) are separate, and under the Constitution, check and balance each other.

On the Election Day the voters also determine who will be future member of the House where all 435 seats are for disposition and they elect one-third of the US Senate, where 100 senators represent the 50 states (2 from each state).

The members of the House underlie a two-year-term of reelection, the US Senate renews every two years a third of its members.

There exist primary (called the primaries), general and local elections. So-called ‘Special Elections’ occur when a certain purpose has to be fulfilled, i.e. filling a vacancy.

Primary & General Elections

Primary Elections

A primary election is a nominating election in which a candidate is chosen by a political party. A primary election can be either open or closed. If a primary election is closed, only those who are members of the respective party may vote. An open primary is one in which any eligible voter, regardless of party affiliation, may vote.

General Elections

A general election is an election held to choose among candidates nominated in a primary (or by convention or caucus) for federal, state and local office. The purpose of a general election is to make a final choice among the various candidates who have been nominated by parties or who are running as independent or write-in candidates. In addition, where nonpartisan races have not been decided in the primary, the runoffs are held at the general election. Statewide measures also can be placed on the November ballot.

A General Election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November in even-numbered years, the so-called Election Day.

Electing the President & Vice

That is a multiple step process: local nominations in the states, followed by the national convention nomination in summer, when the two major parties nominate their major candidate, then the general election campaign when every candidate seeks to convince voters, and the electoral college phase, the final step to determine the new president.

Either a candidate must be nominated by his party or the candidate can be an independent one without party affiliation.

Anyhow, whether representing a party or not, it is an expensive way to run for the presidency. About 12-18 month before the election the candidates start their fundraising rally.

Approximately at the time when the term of the current president is half over, that means about 2 years after the election, the media begin to ask who the next challengers will be. So possible candidates come up, but still need an O.K. from their party, if there is one behind them. That’ll be called the nomination process, the primaries.

Primaries on state level

First on a state level to reduce the field of candidates. That starts approximately in February of the election year.

But normally also on the nation level, because running for president means to be popular person, loved by the media, by the voters, by anyone. The media play a huge role during the entire process. Candidates present themselves, are literally x-rayed by opponents, who try to find the little black spot in the candidate’s past to ruin his or her campaign.

Opinion: Brief excursion into the 2020 campaign of the Democrats to make primaries more clear: in 2020 the Democrats who had a field of initially 20+ candidates which narrowed down after the first few state primaries to may be 10. Later, after a sudden, probably party-orchestrated mass drop-out of all candidates other than Bernie Sanders, who had so far made himself the No1 candidate by votes, only Joe Biden (who had so far a unsuccessful campaign) remained in the field of candidates. By the mass drop out the party could accumulate the other candidate’s votes on Joe Biden because they all suddenly endorsed Biden. Joe Biden came from “Zero to 60” in a heartbeat. Bernie Sanders ended his campaign at that point.
That makes clear that you could argue that a voter’s voice doesn’t really count and that the party has means to maneuver their favorite candidate into the No 1 position of a field.

Primaries on nation level

The big national Conventions of the two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, usually take place during summer of the election year.

National Conventions

Once at the national party conventions, the delegates from the states cast votes for the person who will represent the political party in the November general election.

In order to secure a party’s nomination, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes from the delegates. It is not unusual for delegates to vote several times before one candidate secures the majority of the votes and officially becomes that party’s candidate for the election to determine the next President of the United States. On the other hand it is also not unusual that during the state primaries one of the candidates is a clear front-runner and others drop out of the race.

The candidate for President then must choose a vice-presidential candidate. Generally, a running mate is chosen that will in some way balance the party’s ticket for the general election. This balance may be geographic (choosing a running mate that is very popular in one region where the Presidential candidate is not) or ideological (choosing a running mate with a different ideological framework than the presidential candidate), and the balance is intended to make the overall general election ticket of a political party acceptable to as wide a range of voters as possible.

If a President is running for re-election, this nomination process must be completed. Even if the President does not face any opposition from within his own political party, the national convention will still occur.

The conventions are extravaganzas, full of pageantry and showmanship. They serve to help jump start the general election campaign for the presidential candidates.
The national conventions of the political parties are the culmination of the primary election process. Once the national conventions have been held, and the candidates from the political parties have been nominated and chosen, the presidential election begins in earnest as a contest between the candidates from the political parties. Any divisions or factions that have surfaced within a political party up to the nomination process tend to be set aside and the entire party becomes unified behind its candidate and begins to work to get that person elected.

Independent Candidates

Some people choose to run for president without being affiliated with a political party. Such independent candidates need not concern themselves with getting nominated by a party, but must meet other requirements. For example, such candidates are required to collect a large number of signatures to support their nominations. The sources of funding used by independent candidates comes from personal funds and loans as well as fundraising campaigns.

An independent candidate for President must file a declaration of candidacy and a certification of the candidate’s selection for vice president with the secretary of state prior to circulation of the candidate’s nominating petitions. The candidate and the candidate’s selection for vice president must sign the certification before it is filed. No petition or certificate of nomination may be circulated prior to the first day of January of the year in which the election will be held. Once the required number of signatures is received by the person, s/he is able to run in the general election.

The General Presidential Election

The candidates campaign right up until Election Day, when the American Nation finally votes for its President.

The candidates travel throughout the country, making public appearance and giving speeches. The parties and the candidates use media advertising, direct mailings, telephone campaigns, and other means to persuade the voters to choose one candidate over the other(s). Often, these measures also serve to point out the weaknesses of the candidates from the other parties involved in the general election.

Social media participation and influence became obvious in the 2016 election when a foreign country supported misinformation campaigns and eventually helped Donald Trump to secure the election win for him.

In the national presidential election, every citizen of legal age (who has taken the steps necessary in his/her state to meet the voting requirements, such as registering to vote) has an opportunity to vote.

However, the President is not chosen by direct popular vote. The Constitution requires that a process known as the Electoral College ultimately decides who will win the general election.

What is the Electoral College

Read more about: The Electoral College

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