Elections are the backbone of any democracy. For any republic to truly function, it is important that the power that is is held to account. Any democratic government is a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. How can a government be by the people if the people don’t have a say on how they want to be governed?
When it comes to the democratic republic, the USA is one of the oldest ones out there. Since 1789, the USA has been a democratic republic, conducting elections every year for various public offices.
Elections in the US are the envy of the world. People in the 21st century take democracy for granted, but in the 18th & 19th centuries and even in the early 20th century, democracies were the exception, and monarchies & other authoritarian forms of government were the rules. Now it is very much the opposite. Most governments right now are elected and practice some variation of a democratic republic. So the US conducting free and somewhat fair elections since 1789 is a monstrous feat in itself, and with the US status as the sole superpower in the world, elections in the US are a subject people all over the globe have a fair bit of interest in.
So how do elections in US work?
Well, the first thing to know is that the US is a representative democracy, which means constituents votes for someone who represents their constituency in Congress and hence is empowered to work on their behalf. Case in point, California. The state of California has 55 congressional seats, which are divided across the state. Each seat is representing a constituency in which its constituents vote to elect their representative for the House of Representatives. Now, how constituent votes on a particular constituency has no bar on any other seat.
Now before we go any further, let’s discuss political parties in the USA. There are two main political parties in the fray that have historically competed for the seats of power – the Republican Party (GOP) and the Democratic Party.
Members of the democratic party are commonly known as the Democrats and are generally on the liberal spectrum, and for the Republican Party supporters, the commonly used term is the Republicans, and they are comparatively conservative in their policies. And no, these are not the only parties in the USA. But they are the prominent ones and have enjoyed the seat of power since the 1860s. The other parties that are worth mentioning are the Libertarian Party & Green Party, which in recent electoral cycles, haven’t done anything worth mentioning.
The branches of power are divided into three entities – at the federal level.
- The legislature, i.e. Congress
- Executive, i.e. the Presidency, and
- The judiciary, i.e. Supreme Court
The members of Congress and the President are directly elected by the people, whereas the Judges at the Supreme Court are nominated and accepted by the President and the Senate, respectively. Congress is further divided into two bodies, the House of Representatives, consisting of 435 members, and the Senate, with 100 members(two members for every state in the union).
The Primaries and Caucuses
Now suppose you are running for a seat in Congress, and you are gunning for a nomination from the Democratic Party. First, you have to ward off challenges from your fellow Democratic members who are looking for the same ticket. To find the most desirable candidate, a series of primaries or caucuses is conducted(depending on the state you are in).
A primary is simply a ballot voting in which all the eligible candidates on the ballot; and every eligible voter vote for their preference. In the end, the candidate with the highest vote usually wins. A caucus is a bit different and a lot more complicated. Caucus is a head count of a sort, which happens after a debate among the voters on who they should vote for, and after several rounds of counting, the candidate with the most supporters present wins.
After getting the nomination of your party, you have to contest in a general election against the candidates of other parties and Independents. General elections, at the federal level, are scheduled to be held on the first Tuesday of November. Elections for the House of Representatives are held every two years, whereas a seat in Senate has a six-year cycle. US Presidential Elections are held every four years.
US Presidential Elections
Elections for the highest office in the US, the Presidency, are held every four years. And as you may know, it is not quite straightforward. Reason – the electoral college.
An electoral college is a body of electors formed every four years to pick a President. It constitutes 538 electors. But why 538? 538 is such a random no – why not 1000 to simplify?
Well, the basic logic behind choosing 538 is 535 members of Congress (435 House representatives +100 Senators) and 3 electors for the District of Columbia. To be the President, you have to win at least 270.
A state’s electoral college count is determined by its population and is subject to change after the latest census is held every 10 years. Case in point, the States of Texas and Ohio held 34 and 20 electoral votes, respectively, during the 2008 Presidential Election, but after the 2010 census, their electoral votes changed to 38 for Texas and 18 for Ohio.
Being a candidate for the US Presidential Elections, especially from one of the two major parties, is one of the hardest tasks on earth. One has to go through a vigorously contested primary process that spans anywhere from 6 months to over a year; get the required no of delegates and super-delegates to be officially nominated as the party’s candidate at the national convention, and select a running mate which will be the Vice-President candidate.
After a series of televised debates, normally between the candidates of two major parties, the general election is held on the first Tuesday of November. There are mail-in ballot & early voting options available in several states if one wants to avail of that.
By the next morning, a clear picture emerges & the winner of the election is designated as the President-elect and will remain so till Jan 20th of the next year, when they are officially sworn in as the President of the United States.
What happens if there is a tie?
In case of a tie, or inconclusive result, the incoming House of Representatives, sworn in the first week of January, selects the President, whereas the Senate selects the Vice-President.
And that’s it; this is the US Presidential Elections in nutshell. The electoral college has always been shrouded in controversies, especially after the election of 2000 & the recent 2016 election, where the losing candidate received more national votes (around 3 million more votes for Clinton over Trump in 2016), but this is the system the US has and will remain so unless there is an amendment in the Constitution, ratified by 2/3rd of States 😮
Joe Biden wins Presidency, becomes the 46th President of the United States, read here.
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