The system of elections in the US and Political Parties
by Vladislav B Sotirovic on 07 Jul 2024 0 Comment

Types of elections


In the US, elections are organized on a regular basis for the President, both houses of Congress (House of Representatives and Senate), and state and local government offices. In practice, candidates in the majority of cases run for office as members of a party (Democrat or Republican). In principle, whoever wants to run as an independent candidate can organize a petition. If it collects enough signatures, the person can run. Any American citizen over the age of 18 may vote in an election under the conditions that the person is registered and meets the requirements for residency in a state (one out of 50).


Elections for members of Congress


The US Congress is composed of the House of Representatives (Lower House, representing the people) and the Senate (Upper House, representing the States). The House of Representatives has 435 members. Each member serves a two-year term. However, the exact number in each state depends on the size of its population. States like Montana with a very small population have few representatives (only one) while States with bigger populations have proportionally more representatives: California has 53. The borders of the districts that Representatives represent are changed every ten years after each census, to include an equal number of voters.  


Each State elects two Senators (altogether 100), who serve a six-year term. However, every two years, around 1/3 of the Senate comes up for re-election. Elections for the Senate are held at the same time as elections for the House of Representatives or for the President. Alongside elections on the national level, each state has its own government which is set up like the federal government with elections held in the same way.


Presidential elections


Elections for the President and Vice-President are held every four years according to a complicated procedure that is unique in the world.


The first electoral step is primaries. From January to June in the election year, political parties choose their candidates through a series of elections in each state. The second step is the congressional convention in the summer, the two largest political parties hold conventions to declare the final choice of candidates. Teams of delegates from each state go to the convention to vote for the pair of candidates that won their party’s primary elections. Usually, the party chooses the final candidates informally in advance, based on who was most successful in the primaries.


All presidential elections are organized on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November. Several weeks before the election, voters who are registered to vote receive a card telling them the address of the polling station where they have to cast their vote. Every voter at the polling station casts a single presidential vote (for both President and Vice-President), together with separate votes for a Representative and (in case of elections) a Senator.


The next step is counting the votes. Each of the 50 States has a number of electors (one for each Congressional district and Senator) who make up the Electoral College. Each elector casts two votes, one for the President and another for the Vice-President (formally not dependent on the results of voting by the people but in reality, following the people’s wish expressed in the elections). The members of the Electoral College chose both candidates who received the greatest number of votes in the state. Finally, a candidate with the support of at least 270 of 538 electors becomes President or Vice-President.


The two-party system


Though the US has two focal political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, there are other smaller political parties and associations but they very rarely win major elections. In essence, therefore, the US has a two-party system for the practical reason that the US “winner-take-all” political system makes it difficult for more than two main political parties to coexist.


The Democrats as a party started in the 1820s growing from a branch of the US’ first political party – the Federal Party. The Republican Party began as an anti-slavery party in 1854 with members from the Democratic Party and the Whigs.


Belonging to a party involves simply choosing that party when you register to vote. There are no membership dues or requirements. Thus, people change membership or vote across party lines. The heads of the national parties do not hold official positions in the government.


In the US, the party organizations are less important compared to the States and Parliaments. The way the government is composed, the same political party does not necessarily control the two houses of Congress or the Presidency at the same time. Thus, it is very difficult to hold one party responsible for the actions of the government. US citizens vote for individual candidates for each office rather than a party. This means that the candidates’ personal quality or electoral propaganda is more valuable than his/her party affiliation.


For both parties, the most important activity is the party convention organized every four years before the elections for the President. The convention officially chooses the Presidential candidate and Vice-President and proclaims the political-electoral platform (ideas and policies) of the party. They raise money for election campaigns and provide additional kinds of help to their candidates. Local branches of the parties (with the ordinary supporters) work to support local and national candidates.


In Congress, the majority party controls the most important and powerful committees which make significant decisions on the issues and laws that are dealt with by Congress. The members of the US Congress are more independent of their parties than British Members of Parliament. They aim to appear loyal first to the people they represent but try to be as loyal as to their party’s membership to have a chance to join important committees and fight for their own proposals. Many politically active US citizens do not want politicians to be too partisan but to have a more bipartisan (cooperative) attitude and work for the common good.


In general, comparing the US parties' politics with other countries, both the Democrats and the Republicans can be understood from a wider perspective as parties of the political centre. What differentiates them from each other is that the Democratic Party is to the left while the Republican Party is to the right of centre. Traditionally, the Democratic Party program and politics support spending on social welfare programs while the Republican Party typically supports spending on the US Army and believes there should be few laws restricting the business of making arms. The Republican Party is called the Grand Old Party (GOP) having an elephant as the party’s symbol while a donkey symbolizes the Democrats.


During the last several decades, the Democrats have increasingly been getting support from young voters, low-paid workers, union members, the urban population, and African-Americans (and other minorities). The rich and those with stronger conservative-religious approaches and /or patriarchal views, followed by White citizens who reside in central and southern parts of the US, usually support the Republican Party. 

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