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US Electoral System - Questions and Answers

1. General

The US is a two-party system. Since 1852, all presidents have been either Democrats or Republicans.

The majority vote (single-member district system) applies. The person elected is the one who has the greatest number of votes in the respective electoral district.
The president is not directly elected. Voters vote for electors in every state. These electors are committed to a party. This is mostly the Democratic or the Republican party. Smaller parties hardly stand a chance.

The winner in a state receives all of the electors' votes, even if only one vote wins the election. There are a total of 538 electors (equal to the number of members in the House of Representatives and the Senators). It is especially important to win the election in the most populous states.

To become president, the candidate needs an absolute majority of the 538 votes cast by the electorate (270 votes).

2. Who can become President?

Any native US citizen who is at least 35 years old and has lived in the US for at least 14 years can become President.

3. How long is a term of office?

A term of office lasts 4 years.

4. Can the President be re-elected?

Yes. He can be re-elected once. The total term of office is 8 years.

5. Who can vote?

Any US citizen who is at least 18 years old and is registered. This means that every citizen has to register himself. There are no central electoral rolls. If the citizen fails to register, e.g. after moving, he or she is not allowed to vote.

6. Is the president elected directly?

No. The voter chooses a "voter" who is committed to a political party.

7. When is election day?

The first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of the election year is election day.

8. When does the President's term begin?

The oath of office is taken on January 20th after the election year. The President gives his inaugural address. The President's term of office begins on this day.

9. What are area codes (primaries)?

The parties determine their candidates in the primaries. These begin about a year before the actual election day.
One distinguishes between

  • closed / semi-closed primaries (only party members are allowed to vote e.g. Arizona)
  • open primaries (also non-members can vote - only one party e.g. Missouri)
  • blanket primaries (Here you can choose candidates from both parties e.g. Lousiana)

10. What are caucuses?

In some states (e.g. Iowa), voting takes place in 3 stages.

  • 1st level: local (municipality)
  • 2nd stage: regional (district)
  • 3rd stage: state

Electors are also elected here. (e.g. North Dakota)

11. What is Super Tuesday?

On this day (usually in March of the election year), primary elections are held in at least eight states simultaneously. Whoever emerges as the winner of the respective party on that day, usually also becomes a candidate for the office of president.

12. How do you vote?

There are a total of six different options, depending on the state. There is no single standard for voting papers. Each state has its own rules and laws.

  • 1 ballot paper (tick)
  • 2 ballot papers for punching (with or without pre-cut fields)
  • 3 Machine in which a candidate is chosen with the help of a lever
  • 4 computers (push button)
  • 5 ballot papers (marked with an optical pen)
  • 6 computers (touchscreen)

13. Who will be the candidate for the office of President?

Most of the time, the top candidate is the politician who emerges as the winner in the primary elections in most states.

14. When will the candidate for President be officially confirmed?

This happens at the party convention (national convention) that takes place in the summer of the election year.

15. What are electors?

The political parties (but also independent candidates) require electors. These elect the president. There are 538 electors. The number of electors corresponds to the number of senators (per state 2) and the members of the House of Representatives (e.g. Alaska 1, California 52). On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, electors meet in their state capitals to vote and officially elect the next president. The result will be announced on January 6th.

16. Can women also be electors?

Yes.

17. How high is the voter turnout in the USA?

This is around 50%. Because citizens have to register themselves to vote and some communities require a minimum length of stay, many Americans do not vote.