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Friday, November 26, 2010

How the President Is Elected

Part 1: How It Starts

Most people who run for president are already famous. After all, if you want to be chosen by a majority of the people in America, it helps if many of them know who you are.
Most people who run for president are already serving in government, as members of the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives or as state governors. Former military officers have also run for president.
A presidential candidate first makes an official announcement that he or she is running for president. Then, he or she or someone else on his or her behalf must file papers with the federal elections commission, which regulates the election process. Candidates usually make these announcements at least a year before the presidential election, in order to give themselves enough time to get their messages out and also to give voters enough time to get to know the candidates.
Once the announcement is made, the candidate begins to work very hard to make sure that he keeps his or her name in the public eye. He or she makes speeches, meets with officials from other countries, goes on high-profile trips, etc. The candidate also tends to cut back on time he or she spends in government (if he or she is serving there) to run for president.
When January of an election year rolls around, the candidates begin their heavy lifting for the campaign ahead. As more months go by, people in the American states gather to show their support for the various candidates. (It is very rare for just one candidate from a major political party to run for president, so many names means many people running for the same job.) These gatherings are called primary elections or caucuses. A primary election looks very much like a general election: Voters get ballots that list the names of the people running for president and then go to a polling place and vote for one of those people. A caucus is a gathering of people who discuss the issues and the candidates at a central location and then cast their votes for candidates.
It should be noted here that the majority of people who vote in an American presidential election belong to some kind of political party. The two major political parties are Democratic and Republican. Other political parties include Reform, Green, Natural Law, and Libertarian. If you belong to the Democratic Party, you will get a primary election ballot that contains only the names of the people running for president who are also Democrats. The same is true for Republican voters and for members of other political parties. In the general election, anyone can vote for anyone.
Leading up to and during the caucus-primary election period, the various presidential candidates make trips across the country, visiting people everywhere and giving speeches, trying to drum up support. Candidates will often appear alongside other famous people, like sports stars or movie stars, hoping to gain some support by association with these people in the spotlight. The candidates will often get together and have debates, which are usually televised. This is another way for voters to make up their minds on which candidate should get their votes.
The various states have their caucuses or primary elections throughout the late winter and spring and then have a major national gathering called a convention in the summer. Each political party picks a group of people from each state to represent the state at this convention. At the convention, the delegates cast their votes for the candidate who was the top vote-getter in that state in the caucus or primary election. (This is a warm-up for the Electoral College, which comes later.)

How the President Is Elected

Part 2: How It All Ends Up

Once the conventions are finished, the home stretch for the presidential election begins. Speeches, fundraisers, and debates follow, with all candidates trying to keep themselves in the public eye as much as possible. The popularity of the Internet has added a dimension to candidates' ability to get their message across.
The presidential election takes place every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. (If November 1 is a Tuesday, then the election takes place on November 8.) People across the country cast their votes for whichever candidate they believe will do the best job. Votes are counted, and this is called the popular vote, but it is more than a popularity contest. This is where the Electoral College comes in.
The Electoral College is a group of people who gather to cast their votes for the various presidential candidates (much like the delegates at the political party conventions). When we as Americans are casting our votes for the presidential candidates, we are actually casting our votes for electors, who will cast their votes for the candidates.
The presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each states gets all of the electoral votes for that state. In other words, if the state of Vermont has three electoral votes, it casts all of its electoral votes for the winning candidate. So if Diana Valdez has 4,100,103 votes and Fred Smith has 4,100,100 votes, Diana Valdez still gets all three of Vermont's electoral votes and Fred Smith gets 0. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the Electoral College.)
When all the electoral votes are counted, the president with the most votes wins. In most cases, the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins in the Electoral College. (A few times before, this has not been the case. See the Electoral College article for more.)
The presidential election takes place in November, but the new president doesn't take office until January 20 of the following year. (If a president gets re-elected, he goes right on serving.) The Constitution limits presidents to two terms. Once a president has served two terms, he retires from public office, making way for the next group of political hopefuls. Every four years, the process starts all over again.

The Electoral College

The Electoral College is a group of people who gather to cast their votes for the various presidential candidates (much like the delegates at the political party conventions). When we as Americans are casting our votes for the presidential candidates, we are actually casting our votes for electors, who will cast their votes for the candidates.
Article II of the Constitution lists the specifics of the Electoral College. The Founding Fathers included the Electoral College as one of the famous "checks and balances" for two reasons: 1) to give states with small populations more of an equal weight in the presidential election and 2) they didn't trust the common man (Remember, women couldn't vote then.) to be able to make an informed decision on which candidate would make the best president.
First of all, the same theory that created the U.S. Senate practice of giving two Senators to each state created the Electoral College. The large-population states had their populations reflected in the House of Representatives. New York and Pennsylvania, two of the states with the largest populations, had the highest number of members of the House of Representatives. But these two states still had only two senators, the exact same number that small-population states like Rhode Island and Delaware had. This was true as well in the Electoral College: Each state had just one vote, regardless of how many members of the House represented that state. So, the one vote that the state of New York cast would be decided by an initial vote of New York's Representatives. (If that initial vote was a tie, then that deadlock would have to be broken.)
Secondly, when the Constitution was being written, not many people knew a whole lot about government, politics, or presidential elections. A large number of people were farmers or lived in rural areas, where they were far more concerned with making a living and providing for their families than they were with who was running for which office. Many of these "common people" could not read or write, either, and wouldn't be able to read a ballot in any case. Like it or not, the Founding Fathers thought that even if these "common people" could vote, they wouldn't necessarily make the best decision for who would make the best president. So, the Electoral College was born.
Technically, the electors do not have to vote for anyone. The Constitution does not require them to do so. And throughout the history of presidential elections, some have indeed voted for someone else. But tradition holds that the electors vote for the candidate chosen by their state, and so the vast majority of electors do just that.
The Electoral College meets a few weeks after the presidential election. Mostly, their meeting is a formality.
When all the electoral votes are counted, the president with the most votes wins. In most cases, the candidate who wins the popular vote also wins in the Electoral College. However, this has not always been the case.

You’ve probably heard a lot of talk lately about the Presidential elections. Did you know that the rules about electing the President are written in a document called The Constitution? To be President, you have to be born in the United States, live in the United States for at least 14 years, and you have to be at least 35 years old.

There is a presidential election every 4 years, when the people of the United States vote for the person they want as president for the next four years, called a term. The Constitution says that a President cannot serve for more than 2 terms, which is 8 years.

A candidate for President is someone who wants to be elected and asks people to vote for him or her. Candidates campaign long before election time. A campaign means that the candidate travels all over the country telling people why they should vote for him or her.

Unlike the parties you go to with your friends, in politics, a party is a group of people who think alike about various things, like how much money to spend on people’s welfare, taxes, social security, and national defense. The United States has two main parties–the Democrats and the Republicans. Though we usually only hear about these two parties, there are also other lesser-known political parties, such as the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Peace & Freedom Party, the American Party, the Socialist Party and the Natural Law Party.

The candidate tells people which party he is a member of. The voters in each party decide among the candidates in a chain of preliminary elections called caucuses or primaries. Each state holds its own caucus or primary, where the voters decide which candidate in their party they will support.

After that, each state holds a big meeting called a convention, where they elect delegates–people who support their favorite candidates. Then each party holds its national convention when all the delegates get together and select one candidate to nominate for President and one to nominate for Vice-President. These two nominees are called a ticket.

After the conventions, the nominees have debates to discuss important issues and tell voters why they should be elected instead of the other parties’ nominees. Finally, on Election Day, everyone who is at least 18 years old can vote. When you register to vote, your name is put on a list so they can be sure that you only vote once, for whichever candidate you want to win.

Votes are counted by state. After Election Day, each state assigns people called electors who vote for the ticket that won their state. The electors then get together at a big meeting called the Electoral College, where they elect the President and Vice-President, who are then sworn in and begin their term.

The next presidential elections are in November, 2004. Who do you think will be the next president of the United States?

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