Elections and voting



Presidential elections occur every 4 years on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. 

Article II in the constitution states that to be eligible to be president a person must:

  • Be a natural born US citizen
  • Be at least 35 years of age
  • Have been a resident of the USA for at least 14 years.

The constitution also states that a person cannot serve more than two terms as president. 



A presidential primary is an election to select a party's candidate for the presidency. Some states with a small population spread over a large geographic area often hold caucuses (a series of meetings to select a party's candidate for the presidency) instead of a primary. The states that held caucuses rather than a primary in 2008 included Iowa, Wyoming, North Dakota, Minnesota and Nevada.


Presidential primaries have two main functions:

  • To show the popularity of presidential candidates; primaries can therefore be though of as political 'beauty contests'.
  • To choose delegates to go to the National Party Conventions. 

How primaries are run

Presidential primaries are run under state law, not federal law. That means there are potentially 50 different ways of running primaries. Most importantly, states decide six important things about primaries:

  • Whether to hold a primary or a caucus - The vast majority of states now hold primaries.
  • When to hold the primary - Primaries tend to be held between early January and early June. But each state will decide exactly when within that 4-5 months period to schedule their primary: whether to go early or late, to go for a date on their own or to coincide it with other states.
  • How to conduct the primary - Recently, some states have experimented with postal voting and even electronic voting via the internet. 
  • Who exactly can vote in the primary - Any registered voter can vote in a primary in any state. But in some states when you register you are asked to declare your party affiliation. Some states then allow only registered Democrats to vote in the Democratic primary and only registered Republicans to vote in the Republican primary. This is know as a closed primary. Other states don't bother with establishing party affiliation. They allow any registered voter to decide, on the of the primary, whether they want to vote in the Democratic primary or the Republican primary, this is know as an open primary.
  • Who can be on the ballot - States have their own laws about who gets on the ballot. In some states, notably New York, these are very strange indeed and often keep serious, well-know candidates off the ballot.
  • How to allocate the delegates - In most primaries, candidates are awarded delegates in proportion to the votes they get. This is known as proportional primary. Most states set a threshold- a minimum percentage of votes a candidate must receive to get any of that states delegates. The threshold is usually 15% of the vote, however, in…




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