Tuesday, November 04, 2008

US election - How is it held?

The entire world is now closely watching the US presidential elections. The entire country is caught in the election fervor and as I write this post, the preliminary results have started appearing and all news channels are continuously discussing the outcomes. There has been lots of discussions on the electoral process here. I've made a small attempt to explain the process to all the non-Us folks following this.
  1. The United States Congress is the bicameral legislature of the federal government of the United States of America, consisting of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. As the name suggests, the senate has senators and the House of representatives consists of representatives. The number of representatives from a particular state depends on its population. The Senate house has 2 senators from each state.
  2. The US president is not elected directly by the people. Through today's election, the U.S. citizens elect an electoral college (They need not be senators / representatives). The number of people elected to the electoral college from each state is equal to the number of representatives and the number of senators from the state. For example, California has 53 representatives and 2 senators and hence has 55 electoral votes. Each member of the electoral college has one presidential and one vice-presidential vote.
  3. In 48 states and Washington D.C., all the electoral votes go to the victorious party. For example, let us assume that the democratic party secures majority votes in California. Then all 55 electoral votes will go that party. So, it will not matter if one county in California has voted overwhelmingly republican. Only the total number of votes at the state level is considered.
  4. In the states of Maine and Nebraska alone, they are counted on a district level. So, it is possible that democratic party wins a few votes while the republican party wins the rest.
  5. Once this election is over, members of electoral college who got elected, will gather on Dec 15 and will vote for the president and vice-president. On Jan 8, these votes will be tallied in front of both the house and the winner will be declared as president and Vice-president. And obviously, the president will belong to the party that has got the most electoral votes as the members of the electoral college will definitely support their party.
  6. There are totally 538 electoral votes. Of this, the candidate should get at least 270 votes to be elected as president / vice-president. This system makes it possible for a person to become president even if he/she has got lesser number of votes from the public. For example, the democrats might have got 49% votes in Florida and the Republicans might have got 51%. The margin is very less. But this proportion will not be reflected in the electoral college, as the republicans would get the entire 27 electoral votes of Florida.

Now, some features of this election :)

  1. The elections are held by the respective states themselves. As a result, there are different rules.
  2. Polls close at different times in different states. For example, polls close at 8:00 pm in New Jersey while it closes at 9:00 pm in New york. Polls close at 9:00 pm in California. But due to time different, it'll already be 12:00 am in New York.
  3. As soon as the polls close, the states start counting and release the results. Counting mostly take place in the voting centers itself. As a result, the earlier states start releasing results even before voting completes in others. This sometimes affect the mood of the public and form trends. This has been criticized by many.
  4. In addition to this, the different news agencies continuously release exit polls throughout the day affecting public opinion.
  5. The candidates campaign even on the election day. They cast their votes and then continue campaigning.
  6. Since the states hold elections, each follow a different method. Some of them have paper ballots, some have electronic machines and others have machines with touch screen. If a state has electronic voting, but a voter wants a paper ballot, then he/she should be provided with a paper ballot.


Rajiv said...

Another interesting thing is early voting...people have been voting for 4-5 days prior to the election day.

Kartik said...

Nice article da.. Helps a 'anniyan' like me understand the election processs in a alien land. So its a 3 tier system basically isnt it, people -> electoral candidates -> P & VP.
Also noted a coupla interesting things.

1) "the earlier states start releasing results even before voting completes in others" - Can you imagine this happening in india. If it does, am sure the news channels will have a gala time. Some of the party owned channels would announce that they are the victorious gang well ahead and riots would start :)

2)The candidates campaign even on the election day - Doesn make much sense, does it ? and don u thinkits gonna be waste of time and money ? cant convince ppl over a day's time can you ? seems ab it absurd to me

Kartik said...

btw, are u still writing something in vijaymail.blogspot.com (sindhanai alaigal) ? Looks like a test environment :). Link appears on ur profile details.