5 things you should know about the US Presidential process
Things you should
know about the
US Presidential Process5
Who can be president?
Technically, to run for president, you only need to be "a natural born" US citizen, at least
35 years old, and have been a resident for 14 years.
What are the key dates between now & the election?
The first votes were cast in Iowa on 1 February - it was the first US state to have a contest
(although in Iowa's case, it's a caucus, which is a vote of people present rather than through a
ballot). Other early states include New Hampshire on 8 February and South Carolina, which means
they have presidential candidates visiting them for months on end. On 1 March, a dozen states pick
their presidential nominees, so it's called Super Tuesday.
In 2016, the primaries held on 15 March, including Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, could be
significant because so many delegates are up for grabs. By the end of April, most states have cast
their votes and in most election campaigns, it's clear by then who each party has picked as their
presidential candidate. But it's not official until the party conventions in July. That happens after the
summer, when the two candidates hold a manic, mammoth journey whizzing across the country to
make their case. There are three televised presidential debates in the last six weeks before - finally
- votes are cast on Tuesday, 8 November.
What is the difference between Primaries and Caucuses?
Primaries, which are funded by state governments, are structured like a general election:
Registered voters go to a polling location and place their votes for a candidate. Primaries can be
open or closed.
Open primaries allow any registered voter to vote for any candidate, irrespective of party affiliation.
In such a primary, even if you're registered as a Republican or an independent, you may vote for a
Closed primaries allow only voters registered within a party to vote for that party's candidates. In
this kind of a primary, only registered Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates, and only
registered Republicans can vote for Republican candidates.
Caucuses differ from primaries in their organization, sponsorship, and purpose. Unlike primaries,
which are run by state governments, caucuses are organized by political parties, which coordinate
and fund them. Beyond selecting candidates, caucuses also take care of other party business, such
as choosing party leaders and prioritizing issues within the party’s platform.
Unlike primaries, which involve registered voters, caucuses involve delegates: party members who
are typically local leaders, officials, or activists. Think of a caucus as a state party’s own little
convention. Participants are required to attend for a few hours. Usually delegates attend caucuses
knowing which candidate they’ll support. A candidate will try to persuade undecided delegates to
come to his or her side. Caucuses are also more flexible than primaries.
Primaries must comply with regulations and laws set by the state — which means parties cannot
choose primary dates or say who can participate. With a caucus, a party has the freedom to choose
its timing and has more leeway in planning. Caucuses, however, must be funded by the parties
themselves, whereas the state runs primaries.
How does the vote in November work?
The candidate with the most votes in each state becomes the candidate which that state supports
for president. It's all down to a system called the Electoral College, a group of people who choose
the winner - 538 of them, in fact. Just half of them - 270 - are needed to make a president. But not
all states are equal - California, for example, has more than 10 times the population of Connecticut,
so they don't get an equal say.
Each state has certain number of these "electors" based on their population in the most recent
census (itso happens that it's the same number of districts in a state, plus two senators). When
citizens vote for their preferred candidate, they're actually voting for the electors, some of which are
pledged to one candidate, some for another. But here's where it gets interesting. In almost every
state (except Nebraska and Maine), the winner takes all - so the person who wins the most electors
in New York, for example, will get all 29 of New York's electoral votes. In the race to get to the magic
number - 270 - it's the swing states that often matter most.
What are swing states?
We've got two candidates, both in a race to get to 270 electors by winning whole states at a time.
Both parties think they can bank on certain states, big and small. Republicans will count on Texas,
and not waste their money campaigning to a great extent there. Similarly, California is likely to sit in
the Democrats' column. The others are known as "swing states" - where it could go either way.
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