United States presidential election

United States presidential election

Elections for President and Vice President of the United States are indirect elections that occur (the count beginning with the year 1792) on Election Day, the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Voters cast ballots for a slate of electors of the U.S. Electoral College, who in turn directly elect the President and Vice President. The most recent election occurred on November 2, 2004. The next election is scheduled for November 4, 2008.

The process is regulated by a combination of both federal and state laws. Each state is allocated a number of Electoral College electors equal to the number of its Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress. Additionally, Washington, D.C. is given a number of electors equal to the number held by the smallest state. U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.

Under the U.S. Constitution, each state legislature is allowed to designate a method of choosing electors. Thus, the popular vote on Election Day is conducted by the various states and not directly by the federal government. Once chosen, the electors can vote for anyone, but – with rare exceptions like an unpledged elector or faithless elector – they vote for their designated candidates and their votes are certified by Congress in early January. The Congress is the final judge of the electors; the last serious dispute was in United States presidential election, 2000.

The nomination process, including the primary elections and the nominating conventions, were never specified in the Constitution, and were instead developed by the states and the political parties.


Article Two of the U.S. Constitution originally established the method of presidential elections, including the electoral college. This was a result of a compromise between those constitutional framers who wanted the Congress to choose the president, and those who preferred a national popular vote.

Each state is allocated a number of electors that is equal to the size of its delegation in both houses of Congress combined. With the ratification of the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution in 1961, the District of Columbia is also granted a number of electors, equal to the number of those held by the least populous state. However, U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College.

Under the original system established by Article Two, electors could cast two votes to two different candidates for president. The candidate with the highest number of votes became the president, and the second-place candidate became the vice president. This presented a problem during the presidential election of 1800 when Aaron Burr received the same number of electoral votes as Thomas Jefferson and challenged Jefferson's election to the office. In the end, Jefferson was chosen as the president due to Alexander Hamilton's influence in the House of Representatives. This created a deep rivalry between Burr and Hamilton which resulted in their famous 1804 duel.

In response to the 1800 election, the 12th Amendment was passed, requiring electors to cast two distinct votes: one for President and another for Vice President. The Amendment also established rules when no candidate wins a majority vote in the Electoral College. If no candidate receives a majority, the selection of President is decided by a ballot of the House of Representatives. For the purposes of electing the President, each state only has one vote. A ballot of the Senate is held to choose the Vice President. In this ballot, each senator has one vote. If the President is not chosen by Inauguration Day, the Vice President-elect acts as President. If neither are chosen by then, Congress by law determines who shall act as President, pursuant to the 20th Amendment.

In the presidential election of 1824, Andrew Jackson received a plurality, but not a majority, of electoral votes cast. The election was thrown to the House of Representatives, and John Quincy Adams was elected to the presidency. In this case as well, a deep rivalry was fermented, this time between Andrew Jackson and House Speaker Henry Clay, who had also been a candidate in the election.

Constitutionally, the manner for choosing electors is determined within each state by its legislature. Gradually throughout the years, the states began conducting popular elections to help choose their slate of electors, resulting in the overall, nationwide indirect election system that it is today.

Candidates can fail to get the most votes in the nationwide popular vote in a Presidential election and still win that election. This occurred in 1876, 1888 and 2000. Numerous constitutional amendments have been submitted seeking to replace the Electoral College with a direct popular vote, but none has ever successfully passed both Houses of Congress.

Nominating process

The modern nominating process of U.S. presidential elections currently consists of two major parts: a series of presidential primary elections and caucuses held in each state, and the presidential nominating conventions held by each political party. This process was never included in the United States Constitution, and thus evolved over time by the political parties to clear the field of candidates.

The primary elections and caucuses are run by state and local governments. Some states only hold primary elections, some only hold caucuses, and others use a combination of both. These primaries and caucuses are staggered between January and June before the federal election, with Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally holding the first presidential state caucus and primary, respectively.

Like the general election, presidential caucuses or primaries are indirect elections. The major political parties officially vote for their presidential candidate at their respective nominating conventions, usually all held in the summer before the federal election. Depending on each state's law and state's political party rules, when voters cast ballots for a candidate in a presidential caucus or primary, they may actually be voting to award delegates "bound" to vote for a candidate at the presidential nominating conventions, or they may simply be expressing an opinion that the state party is not bound to follow in selecting delegates to their respective national convention.

Unlike the general election, voters in the U.S. territories can also elect delegates to the national conventions.

In addition to delegates chosen during primaries and caucuses, state delegations to both the Democratic and Republican conventions also include "unpledged" delegates who can vote for whomever they want. For Republicans, these include top party officials. Democrats have a more expansive group of unpledged delegates called "superdelegates", who are party leaders and elected officials.

Each party's presidential candidate also chooses a vice presidential nominee to run with him on the same ticket, and this choice is basically rubber-stamped by the convention.

The popular vote on Election Day

Under the constitution, the manner for choosing electors for the Electoral College is determined by each state's legislature. Today, the states and the District of Columbia each conduct their own popular elections on Election Day to help determine their respective slate of electors. Thus, the presidential election is really an amalgamation of separate and simultaneous state elections instead of a single national election run by the federal government.

Like any other election in the United States, the eligibility of an individual for voting is set out in the Constitution and also regulated at state level. The Constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex or age for citizens eighteen years or older. Beyond these basic qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility.

Generally, voters are required to vote on a ballot where they select the candidate of their choice. The presidential ballot is actually voting "for the electors of a candidate" meaning that the voter is not actually voting for the candidate, but endorsing a slate of electors pledged to vote for a specific Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate.

Many voting ballots allow a voter to "blanket vote" for all candidates in a particular political party or to select individual candidates on a line by line voting system. Which candidates appear on the voting ticket is determined through a legal process known as ballot access. Usually, the size of the candidate's political party and the results of the major nomination conventions determine who is pre-listed on the presidential ballot. Thus, the presidential election ticket will not list every single candidate running for President, but only those who have secured a major party nomination or whose size of their political party warrants having been formally listed. Laws are in effect to have other candidates pre-listed on a ticket, provided that a sufficient number of voters have endorsed the candidate, usually through a signature list. Never, however, in U.S. history has a 3rd party candidate for president secured a place on the election ticket in this fashion. Fact|date=January 2008

The final way to be elected for president is to have one's name written in at the time of election as a write-in candidate. This is used for candidates who did not fulfill the legal requirements to be pre-listed on the voting ticket. It is also used by voters to express a distaste for the listed candidates, by writing in a ridiculous candidate for president such as Mickey Mouse or comedian Stephen Colbert. In any event, a write-in candidate has never won an election for President of the United States.

Because U.S. territories are not represented in the Electoral College, citizens in those areas do not vote in the general election for President.

Electoral college

Most state laws establish a plurality voting system ("winner-take-all"), under which the ticket that wins the most popular votes in a state wins all of that state's allocated electoral votes, and thus has their slate of electors chosen to vote in the Electoral College. Maine and Nebraska do not use this method, opting instead to give two electoral votes to the statewide winner and one electoral vote to the winner of each Congressional district.

Each state's winning slate of electors then meets at their respective state's capital on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December to cast their electoral votes on separate ballots for President and Vice President. Although Electoral College members can technically vote for anyone under the U.S. Constitution, 24 states have laws to punish faithless electors, [http://www.fairvote.org/e_college/faithless.htm] those who do not cast their electoral votes for the person whom they have pledged to elect.

In early January, the total Electoral College vote count is opened by the sitting Vice President, acting in his capacity as President of the Senate, and read aloud to a joint session of the incoming Congress, which was elected at the same time as the President. In the event that no candidate receives a majority of the electoral vote (currently at least 270), the President is determined by the rules outlined by the 12th Amendment.

Unless there are faithless electors, disputes, or other controversies, the events in December and January mentioned above are largely a formality in the public eye since the winner can be determined based on the state-by-state popular vote results.


In recent decades, one of the presidential nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties has almost always been an incumbent president or a sitting or former vice president. When the candidate has not been a president or vice president, nominees of the two main parties have been state Governors or U.S. Senators. The last nominee from either party who had not previously served in such an office was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who won the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency in the 1952 election.

A number of trends in the political experience of presidents have been observed over the years. The first was the place of Secretary of State as a "stepping-stone" to the White House, with five of the six Presidents who served between 1801 and 1841 previously holding that office. However, since 1841, only one Secretary of State has gone on to be President (James Buchanan). Contemporary electoral success has clearly favored state governors. Of the last five presidents, four (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush) have been governors of a state (all except for George H. W. Bush). Geographically, these presidents were from either very large states (California, Texas) or from a state south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of Texas (Georgia, Arkansas). In all, sixteen presidents have been former governors, including seven who were in office as governor as the time of their election to the presidency.

Fifteen presidents have previously served in the Senate, including four of the five Presidents who served between 1945 and 1974. However, only two were sitting U.S. Senators at the time they were elected president (Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1960). Major-party candidate Senators Andrew Jackson (1824), Lewis Cass (1848), Stephen Douglas (1860), Barry Goldwater (1964), George McGovern (1972), and John Kerry (2004) all lost their elections. Only one sitting member of the House of Representatives has been elected president (Garfield), although eighteen presidents have been former members of the House. Fourteen presidents have previously served as vice presidents. In 2008, the nominees of both major-parties are sitting U.S. Senators, so a senator will probably be elected president for the 2009-2013 term.


:"* Winner received less than an absolute majority of the popular vote.":" † Losing candidate received a plurality of the popular vote.":" ‡ Losing candidate received an absolute majority of the popular vote."

Voter turnout

Voter turnout in presidential elections has been on the decline in recent years, although the 2004 election showed a noticeable increase over the turnout in 1996 and 2000. While voter turnout has been decreasing, voter registration has been increasing. Registration rates varied from 65% to 70% of the voting age population from the 1960s to the 1980s, and due in part to greater government outreach programs, registration swelled to 75% in 1996 and 2000. Despite greater registration, however, turnout in general has not greatly improved. [cite web|url=http://www.fec.gov/pages/htmlto5.htm|title=National Voter Turnout in Federal Elections: 1960-1996|publisher=Federal Election Commission|date=2003-07-29|accessdate=2007-12-09] [cite web|url=http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/electionInfo/index.html|title=Election Information: Election Statistics|publisher=Office of the Clerk|accessdate=2007-12-09] [cite web|url=http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/voting.html|publisher=U.S. Census Bureau|title=Voting and Registration Date|accessdate=2007-12-09]

¹ The voting age population includes all persons age 18 and over as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, which necessarily includes a significant number of persons ineligible to vote, such as non-citizens, felons, and the mentally incompetent. The actual number of "eligible voters" is somewhat lower, and the number of "registered voters" is lower still. The number of non-citizens in 1994 was approximately 13 million, and in 1996, felons numbered around 1.3 million, so it can be estimated that around 7-10% of the voting age population is ineligible to vote.

Note that the large drop in percentage turnout between 1968 and 1972 can be attributed (at least in part) to the expansion of the franchise to 18 year olds (previously restricted to those 21 and older).

cientific forecasts

* [http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/ FiveThirtyEight]

See also

*United States presidential primary
*United States presidential nominating convention
*United States presidential election debates
*List of United States presidential elections by Electoral College margin
*American election campaigns in the 19th century
*Elections in the United States


* Presidents John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur and Gerald Ford served as president but never won an election for president.
* Ford was never elected vice-president.
* Tyler and A. Johnson were never major candidates, not even as incumbent presidents.
* Fillmore was a major candidate, but not as an incumbent.

External links

* [http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/sou.php The American Presidency Project (UC Santa Barbara: 52,000+ Presidential Documents)]
* [http://www.usavotes2008.com USA Votes 2008)]
* [http://www.archives.gov/federal_register/electoral_college/votes/index.html Electoral College Box Scores]
* [http://www.ericdigests.org/2001-2/elections.html Teaching about Presidential Elections]
* [http://geoelections.free.fr/ All the maps since 1840 by counties] (French language site)
* [http://uselectionatlas.org/ Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections]
* [http://uspresidentialelections.webs.com/ History of U.S. Presidential Elections: 1789-2004]
* [http://www.davegentile.com/philosophy/Vermont.html A history of the presidency from the point of view of Vermont] Discusses history of American presidential elections with two states as opposite "poles", Vermont, and Alabama
* [http://www.livingroomcandidate.com The Living Room Candidate: A Compilation of Presidential Television Ads]
* [http://www.presidentialcampaigns.org Presidential Campaigns - News, Polls and More]
* [http://dca.tufts.edu/features/aas A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825]
* [http://www.msu.edu/~sheppa28/elections.html How close were Presidential Elections?] - Michael Sheppard, Michigan State University
* [http://www.bessereweltlinks.de/open.php?id=59799 Better World Links on the U.S. Presidential Election]

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