How the US Presidential Election System Works

The US Presidential election is undoubtedly the biggest political event that the whole world watches with bated breath. What we have to realize is that the person who comes to power and becomes the President of the United States has a BIG say in most if not all of the world’s affairs. This single fact makes every citizen of the world take an interest in the Presidential election, and not just people living in the US.

One has to announce that he/she is going to run for the Presidential elections two years before the elections actually take place. From then onwards there is the journey from campaigning to swearing in for the office. So how does this process take place? Let’s have a detailed look at it.

How does the two party system work?

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The US has a very distinct method of electing their Presidents. It is either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. The candidates running from these two parties have their own unique style of working. But one thing is common – the candidates from both these parties spend millions or even billions of dollars for their campaigns. This includes their airfare for traveling around the county to make speeches, to sponsor the TV channels to reach out to people and basically for marketing themselves to the masses.

All of this marketing requires a heavy sum of money and big corporations help them out to raise money for such campaigns. Sometimes, even though very seldom, the candidates do it themselves (like Donald Trump is doing this time, at least).

Even though America has voted only for two parties until recently, there are other parties too such as, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, the Libertarians and the Natural Law Party. But since 1872, America has only been seen supporting either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party which is why they are also known as the Two-Party government.

So how do the candidates get chosen?

The Democrats and the Republicans are known to go from one state to another in search for the right candidate. They even have elections among their chosen candidates to finalize the nominees. These early races cover almost half a dozen of candidates and all of these processes are very transparent as the media keeps them constantly in check. This way people get to see which ones are coming forward in the game and they can follow the candidates from the very beginning.

When it comes to voting, the rules will vary by state and each candidate has to register with their party. However, some states do not have that rule. So anyone who meets the criteria required for voting can vote in the elections and this arrangement is also known as an Open Primary. Here people can cross over their votes to whomever they think could be the weakest link among the candidates.

Then there are states when you have to register with the party to be voted, such as in Maryland. These types of primaries are called Closed Primaries. Then there is a semi open primary where the voters have to choose which primary they want to vote in and they have to choose the party they want to vote for as well.

Then there are votes based on the communities and the rules here differ from one state to another. These are known as Caucuses. There are states which use this system of voting such as Hawaii, Colorado, Alaska, Kansas, Iowa, etc.

After that comes the process of selecting delegates. Again depending upon the population of the state, the number of delegates is chosen. These delegates then go to the national convention and declare the number of votes that will come for selecting a nominee.

What’s the main difference between primary and caucus system?

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The main difference is between the parties and the governments. The state governments conduct the primaries, whereas the state parties are responsible for the caucuses. It has to be kept in mind that both these two sources have different agendas.

The main reason some states have primaries while others have caucuses can be summed up to this: there’s a trade off. Yes, many other reasons are responsible for this decision too, but mainly the parties are responsible for nominating a candidate so this is done. But since in a primary system the costs are borne by the state, many states have adopted the primary system of voting at present.

Talking about the main issue here, the primary system was originally adopted to reduce the mischief in the voting ballots. Again, since the parties are responsible for nominating, the caucus system appears to be less reliable by most people. In primary, they can go to their vote ballots, vote and leave – the thing appears to be much more transparent and fair.

State has many reasons to hold a caucus – selecting those delegates which would enable them to move on towards more of a district or county convention, etc. most importantly it is totally a party business and these things take time. Those who vote in the caucus system are more engaged in the party workings and they have their own reasons to select the delegates.

Then comes the convention

The conventions are the place where the candidates running for presidency choose their vice president. There was a time when the vice presidents didn’t get elected by anyone – whoever came second was automatically chosen as the vice president by the state. As you can fathom – this gave way to some cold war or awkwardness among the candidates. John Dams and Thomas Jefferson had it pretty rough in their times. Both of them were at cold war with each other and the administration had to suffer for it for quite some time.

Then there came the 12th amendment to the constitution and drove that awkwardness away.

Who are the “SuperPACs”?

There’s been a lot of buzz around them recently. The Super PACs or the super political action committees have the most influence on elections these days. These are also political groups but they work independently. They are basically given the responsibility to raise and spend enormous amounts for the party during the campaigns.

According to law, these PACs will not be allowed to coordinate with the staff of the candidate by any means. But in reality they act as distinct proxies who echo their campaign and hammer the opponents. There was a time when the Super PACs came under the limelight when they got Supreme Court attention. However the court ruled them out saying that there was no limit as to how much the corporations or unions can donate for the campaigns.

What happens on the day of election?

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The national Election Day always falls on the first Tuesday in the first week of November. The schools and other institutions remain closed on that day. There are hundreds of millions of votes that are cast across the nation on that day.

Also, the counting begins on the exact same date when the votes are cast. The evenings are chosen for counting, when all the eyes and ears of America remain fixed on their television sets. But of course, before that, the media carries out surveys across the state to find out which candidate might win. So people have an ideal about the candidate that is going to be chosen.

It is usually during late night 11pm East Coast time, when the results get quite visible. One can come to a clear practical idea about which party has won. This is when the losing candidate calls the winner to concede and both of them decide to give a speech – one claims victory and other defeat.

What happens when there are unforeseen situations?

An unforeseen issue, such as a tie would happen if each candidate gets 269 votes. In this case, it would be up to the House of Representatives to choose a new president. They are then asked to vote.

Then it might also happen that at the end of the day the people still don’t know who the winner is. It happened in the year 2000. It happens when the results are very much close. This is when the results obviously get delayed.

Other times there are legal battles over the procedures of election, which again delay the election results.

Who selects the members of the House of representative?

As the name suggests, it is the “House of representatives” – they are the representatives of the people. In US, people elect the 435 members of Congress’s lower house. Apart from this, people are also voting and electing their state officials and local officials.

So in all stages of elections, people have an equal part to play.

If you listen to the buzz on America’s election campaigns, you can take a wild guess as to who is going to be the next president.



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