The Presidential Election Process

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The Presidential Election Process

The Road to The White House is both lengthy and complex. News reports about possible presidential candidates begin circulating almost two years prior to Election Day. In 2007, there are almost two dozen declared candidates. And by November 4, 2008, only two major party candidates will be on the ballot. How do we get from here to there?

The following concepts are critical to the presidential election process:

Straw Polls:
A straw poll is a non-binding vote. If a state holds a straw poll, it does not commit its delegates to any particular candidate(s). Check out to find out when your state held its straw poll(s) and what the results were.

Primaries and Caucuses:

Most states hold some sort of Presidential Primary election or caucus starting in early 2008.

In a closed primary, those who are registered to a particular political party can vote for the candidate of their choice on only that party's primary ballot. In an open primary, a voter can "secretly" vote for any candidate on the ballot, regardless of the voter's or the candidate's party affiliation. This also means that non-party affiliated voters are eligible to vote in their state's primary. These binding primary elections provide the basis for the state's assignment of delegates to particular candidates.

A significant amount of media attention focuses on the importance of the states of Iowa and New Hampshire in the presidential election process. The Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary are generally held within a week of each other. Since 1972, the Iowa Caucus has been recognized as the opening of the presidential nominating process. Since 1952, New Hampshire has been a major testing ground for presidential candidates as well as a predictor of future electoral success. Traditionally, it has been the first state to hold a presidential primary, and New Hampshire law, since 1977, has stated that its presidential primary is to be the first held in the U.S. Based upon candidate performance in these early days, we will likely begin to see some candidates drop out of the race.

Several of the more populated states in the U.S. have begun moving up the date of their presidential primary election in an effort to become the "first". February 5, 2008 is "Super Tuesday", a date when over a dozen states will hold their primary elections. By this time, the leading candidate from each of the major political parties should become evident.

View the most recent schedule of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses. 

National Party Conventions

Every four years, the national political parties hold a convention. Although mostly known as the venue for formally selecting that party's presidential nominee to the (November) general election, these conventions are also the forum for adopting the party's "platform" or guiding policy principles (a.k.a. "planks") and goals.

Since 1936, the party not holding the White House is the first to convene its convention. Therefore in 2008, the Democratic Party will hold its nominating convention first, August 25 – 28, in Denver, Colorado. The Republican Party Convention will be held the following week, September 1- 4, 2008, in Minneapolis - St. Paul, Minnesota.

Election Day and The Electoral College
On November 4, 2008, eligible voters in the U.S. will go to the polls to select the next President of the United States. But the popular vote is not necessarily the determining factor in the selection of the President. This is where and how the Electoral College impacts the final outcome.

According to the National Archives:

"The Electoral College was established by the founding fathers as a compromise between election of the president by Congress and election by popular vote. The electors are a popularly elected body chosen by the States and the District of Columbia...The Electoral College consists of 538 electors (one for each of 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 Senators; and 3 for the District of Columbia...Each State's allotment of electors is equal to the number of House members to which it is entitled plus two Senators...

The slates of electors are generally chosen by the political parties. State laws vary on the appointment of electors. The States prepare a list of the slate of electors for the candidate who receives the most popular votes...

...A majority of 270 electoral votes is required to elect the President and Vice President. No Constitutional provision or Federal law requires electors to vote in accordance with the popular vote in their State.

The electors prepare six original Certificates of Vote...Each...lists all persons voted for as President and the number of electors voting for each person...

If no presidential candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the 12th Amendment to the Constitution provides for the presidential election to be decided by the House of Representatives. The House would select the President by majority vote, choosing from the three candidates who received the greatest number of electoral votes. The vote would be taken by State, with each State delegation having one vote..."

Battleground (or "swing") states are those which do not appear to strongly support one candidate over another. Therefore, it becomes difficult to predict which candidate will receive the Electoral College votes assigned to that state. These states are often a place where significant pre-General Election political activity occurs by the candidates and the political parties and in the media.

It wouldn't be an election without...

Presidential Debates: View a list of currently scheduled debates. Also, monitor the Commission on Presidential Debates web site for information about debates between the presidential candidates in the 2008 General Election.

Public Funding of Presidential Elections: Most of us can probably recall seeing a question on the front page of our federal income tax forms, asking if we want to contribute $3.00 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. These are the voluntary public funds which make it possible to finance qualified presidential campaigns.

A candidate may choose to receive Public Matching Funds to support their campaigns. In order to qualify, a candidate must meet several requirements including agreeing to limit their campaign spending to a defined amount. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is responsible for determining whether the candidate's campaign meets all eligibility requirements as well as certifying the amount of public funds for which the candidate is entitled. Payments from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund are made by the U.S. Treasury.

The Federal Election Commission has published a brochure about Public Matching Funds.