Elections - The US Presidential Election System,The Voting Process


The US Presidential Election System

Every four years the American public is called upon to elect the president. On the 'Tuesday following the first Monday of November in years divisible by four' the people cast their ballots for the candidate of their choice. In general, American voters have the opportunity to participate in more elections than the citizens of most other democracies. Because of its federal system, in which both the national government and the state governments have distinct powers, election day in the United States is the also the occasion for simultaneous state and local elections.

The President is not directly elected by the people. Although the votes might believe they are casting their votes for a particular person, in reality what they are actually doing is voting to select the persons who will be sent from their state as electors in the Electoral College. It is the Electoral College which actually elects the President.

With exception of Maine and Nebraska, the states operate on a 'winner takes all' basis, that is to say that a candidate gets all the electoral college votes of a state where he wins the popular vote. Under this process it is possible for a candidate to become President, even though he did not win the popular vote.

The Voting Process

Voting itself is a two-step process. Since there is no national list of eligible voters, citizens must qualify to vote by registering. This is normally done in the area in which they live. The procedures for registering vary from state to state, and times past, the registration process has been used to discourage certain citizens from voting.

After registering, the next step is public access to a ballot. For most voters, this means going to a polling place near their homes to cast a ballot. The states are responsible for the equipment used for voting, and so there is a variety of different machinery used for casting ballots. These include punched-card devices, 'level' machines, and in step with modern technology, devices such as touch-screens.

After the polls have closed, the votes are counted late on election night so as not to influence the voting process prior to closing.

Election 2004

John Kerry, the democratic presidential candidate has referred to the election this year as 'the election of a lifetime'. In many ways he is correct. Seldom has the United States been so deeply divided over an election as in this year. A survey taken by the Horation Alger Association of Distinguished Americans (based in Alexandria, VA) showed that among teenagers, notorious for their lack of interest in politics, 7 out of 10 youths between 13 and 19 cared about who won the election this year.

Unlike previous elections, the economy, education and health care seem of less importance than the war on terrorism and the safety and security of Americans.

Given the 'winner takes it all' position of all but three states for the allocation of the electoral votes, those states which cannot be classified as being 100% for Bush or Kerry will be critical to the outcome of the election.

Examples of states that are 'sure to vote' for a particular candidate are California and New York (for Kerry) and Texas (for Bush). 'Swing states', so named because the outcome could 'swing' either way, are Nevada, Iowa and Missouri. Altogether eighteen states fall into this category, and these states are being wooed intensely by both candidates.