Here is a quick breakdown of the voting system in the United States:
When Do You Vote?
Every four years, the people of the United States choose a President. An election takes place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year the date is November 6.
Why the Tuesday?
In the mid-19th Century, the US was an agrarian nation and it simply took a lot of time for farmers to drive the horse and buggy to the nearest polling place. Saturday was a workday on the farm, travel on Sunday was out, and Wednesday was a market day. That left Tuesday.
Who Can Run for President?
The basic rules for running for President are rather simple: You have to be born in the United States and be at least 35 years old and “been fourteen years a Resident within the United States.” You can only be President for eight years (that’s two four-year terms.) Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only person to be President for more than two terms. He was elected four times. The President can be a man or a woman of any race or any religion.
It is free to vote in the national presidential election, as long as the voter is a naturalized or native-born citizen of the United States, and at least 18 years old. Before an American citizen can cast a vote, they must register in the state in which they live. A person who is in jail, or someone who is on probation for committing a felony, (serious crime such as murder or robbery), cannot vote.
How Do You Vote?
Some people vote by punching a hole in a card, some use computers with touch screens, some people vote using paper ballots and then scanning them or by putting an X in a box next to the candidate’s name. You don’t vote for the President directly, but indirectly! You vote for a member of an electoral college.
What is the Electoral College?
First of all – it’s not a college! The United States Electoral College is the institution that officially elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. The President and Vice President are not elected directly by the voters. Instead, they are elected indirectly by “electors” who are elected by popular vote on a state-by-state basis.
In 48 of the states, the candidate that gets the most votes gets all the electoral votes for that state. Nebraska and Maine do not follow the winner-take-all rule. In those two states there could be a split of electoral votes among the candidates. The first candidate to win 270 electoral votes becomes the President!
Under the Electoral College system, each state has a number of votes which is linked to its number of members of Congress, and reflects its population. The most populous state, California, has the most votes, 55, while other large states like New York and Florida each have 29. The least populated states, Montana, Vermont and Alaska, for example, have just three votes.
A presidential candidate needs 270 Electoral College votes – a majority of the 538 available – to win.
Fun Fact: It is possible for a candidate to lose the popular vote and still be elected president by the Electoral College. Four presidents have been elected in this manner: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888 and George W. Bush in 2000.
This year, there are several people running for President of the United States, but the two major candidates are former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama.
The job of President is a very important one. The President picks many of the people who help run the country, including judges. He or she is in charge of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. He or she represents the United States and decides how we work with other countries. The President suggests laws and signs laws. Sometimes he or she even rejects laws. He or she works to help other countries get along.
On January 20, the President is sworn in, in Washington, D.C. He recites an oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
To rate the US Presidents, please click on the seal of the President below: