American elections

How the process works

On Tuesday, November 6th, millions of adults will go to their local voting booths to vote for the next president and vice president of the United States. All of the votes will be recorded and counted, and the winner will be… named? Uh, not so fast. It’s a lot more complicated than that!

Before you can vote, you have to register as a voter in your state. It’s easy to do because almost every state in the U.S. accepts the same, simple National Registration form.

Registration helps your local polling office keep track of who can and did vote. So, when you go to your local polls on Election Day, there will be people there with a list of all of the registered voters in your area, and they’ll cross your name off of their list. This also helps them to make sure no one votes more than once or tries to vote under someone else’s name.

The Parties: Sizing up the Competition
In the U.S., most of our elected officials are from two large parties, Democrats or Republicans, but other people want to be president, too. These other candidates come from what are called ‘Third Parties’ like the Green Party, Independence Party, Constitution Party, Socialist Party, Libertarian Party, Reform Party, and Natural Law Party.

The Primaries and Caucuses: Narrowing Down the Pack
Usually more than one member of a party wants to become president, and each has his or her own vision for the country. But, only one candidate from each party can run in the final election. That’s where primaries and caucuses come in. If a President finishing his first term is running for re-election, usually no one in his party will run against him and he will become his party’s nominee.

Between late January and early June during the year of the general election, a few states hold caucuses, but most states choose their candidate using primary elections.

Caucuses are small groups of people getting together to decide whom they want to support as their party’s candidate. Primaries are elections where everyone in the party who is interested votes for the party candidate. In these primaries and caucuses, delegates are chosen to represent candidates at the national conventions in the summer.

Each state gets a certain number of delegates depending on how many people live there. The delegates go to the convention and whichever candidate gets more than 50% of the delegates becomes the party nominee.

The Conventions: Party-Time, Politicians Style
After the primaries and caucuses, the major parties hold conventions to officially nominate the candidate who won the most delegates, If only the President ran for the party’s nomination, they renominate the President.

The President will usually announce his choice for Vice President during or slightly before the convention as well. These conventions are kind of like big parties or pep-rallies with politicians speaking too loud, cheering crowds who hold up campaign signs and toss around balloons and confetti.

After the candidates are nominated, their names are officially submitted to each State’s chief election official so that they will appear on the general election ballot. Other parties will also hold conventions and nominate their candidate based on the rules of the party.

The General Election and the Electoral College: Being Popular Isn’t Enough
Now, that each party has a potential President and Vice President (often called the party’s “ticket”) the general election process begins. Candidates spend weeks campaigning throughout the country in an attempt to win the support of voters. Even though a voter may belong to a particular party, he or she may vote for candidates from any party.

Usually the major parties candidates will hold public debates on national television where reporters question them on the major issues.

Finally on November 6th, the people vote for one, and only one, ticket. People who are traveling on Election Day can vote in their home state by filing absentee ballots. Procedures for getting absentee ballots and deadlines for submitting them vary by state.

But… and this is a BIG ‘but’… when a person casts a vote in the general election, they’re not really voting directly for an individual ticket. They’re voting for something called Electors, and whichever ticket gets the most votes in a state then gets that state’s electors who are in turn supposed to vote for the ticket.

These electors are part of something called the Electoral College. Each state has a number of electors equal to the number of its Senators (always 2) plus the number of its Representatives (determined by the state’s population), for a total college of 538 electors. The first candidate to win more than half the electoral votes (at least 270) becomes President!

And the Winner Is… : The Next President of the United States
Usually, the winner is announced very late on election night after most state’s polls have closed and votes tallied.

Even though we now know the President-elect and Vice President-elect (the duo who will be sitting in the White House in January) there are still some formalities to take care of to make everything official.

In December, the Electors cast their votes and the results are announced in early January. In late January, The President-elect and Vice President-elect take the oath of office and begin their work as leaders of the U.S.


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