A Guide to the US Presidential Elections

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The American Constitution specifies that the President must be a natural born citizen, at least 35 years old and been a resident within the US for at least 14 years, and indeed the first requirement was famously used by some figures against Barack Obama, however Hawaii was definitely still a US state the last time I checked. Similarly, in the current election Ted Cruz is also seen as not meeting the requirements due to him being born in Canada, but again, this is false as he was entitled to American citizenship at birth.

Candidates usually declare that they are running for President many months in advance of the actual date. This is a big declaration by the candidate and is the official start of their campaign. Their announcements have generally been made earlier and earlier in recent elections – In 2016 Ted Cruz was the first major candidate to announce his candidacy on March 23rd 2015, whereas John F Kennedy, for the 1960 election, announced his candidacy on January 2nd 1960, emphasising how the sheer scale of campaigning that is now done for this election.

Funding is one the most important elements of any election. Between them, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney raised more than $2billion in 2012 with most of the money going into advertising, raising awareness for their respective campaigns and travelling across the country. Money can be donated by individuals, through optional federal funding, via party conventions or from public action committees (PACs). However, there are limits on how much each source can donate to the candidate.

Primaries are conducted in each state individually, with Iowa traditionally being first up in early February. The last states tend to hold their primaries in June, with many prospective candidates often not making this date due to a high rate of dropping out if one does poorly in earlier primaries – Senator Rand Paul was one such candidate this year. Similarly, if a candidate does well it can be a boost to the overall campaign – see Bernie Sanders as an example of this. Primaries are indirect elections however, meaning that people are not actually voting for their candidate. Instead, they are voting for a delegate, or number of delegates, who will vote on behalf of the people. There are two types of delegates within each party: pledged delegates, who have to vote the candidate chosen by the people they represent, and unpledged delegates, who are allowed to vote for any candidate.

A caucus is a physical vote where a head count is taken, and therefore is a longer process than a traditional vote. Only 14 states have Caucuses with most opting for a proportional system to encourage greater participation.

A conventional voting system where a ballot paper is used. Primaries are either open, closed or semi closed.

  • Open primaries mean that anyone can vote.
  • Closed primaries only allow registered party members to vote.
  • Semi Closed primaries allow for independent voters to vote in any primary, but registered party members can only vote in their respective party.

The National Convention, usually held between July and September, is when the candidate representing the given party is announced. Historically, the winner of the primaries is announced here, but due to the way recent elections have unfolded the winner is often already known. In addition, the prospective Vice President is announced. It is a chance to boost awareness of the candidates and signals the final stages of the presidential run.

Between the convention and the election, which is constitutionally set to the Second Tuesday in November, the two candidates have many debates and try to increase support in States they feel will be significant in the election, the so-called Swing States.

Finally! After almost 18 months of campaigning the election takes place. Similar to the primaries, it is an indirect vote through the Electoral College. Each state has a number of delegates which is decided by the amount of senators and representative each state has. Every state has two Senators and at least one Representative. Eight states have the minimum of three and California has the most delegates with fifty-five. All states except Maine and Nebraska have a winner takes all format and a candidate needs 270 delegates to be declared the winner and the President of the USA.

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