How Is the American President Elected?
The American constitution, framed at Philadelphia in 1787, provides for the president’s election by special electors appointed in each state, the number depending on the size of the population.
Every state legislature has now surrendered the right to appoint these electors. They are chosen by popular election on a general “ticket” nominated by each party. Which every party receives the most votes for its list of candidates wins all the electoral votes for that state.
The presidential electors vote by ballot for president and vice-president. These votes are sent to the president of the Senate and are counted before a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
If no candidate for the presidency receives a majority, the House of Representatives votes on the three leading contenders, each state delegation casting a single vote. For the vice-president, a similar ballot is held in the Senate, with each member casting one vote.
Presidential candidates are nominated by each major party at a national Nominating Convention in the summer before the election, which always takes place in December. Their campaigns are often concentrated on winning the big blocks of electoral votes in highly populated states such as New York and California.
These presidential elections occur quadrennially. Registered voters cast their ballots on Election Day, which since 1845 has been the Tuesday after the first Monday in November (i.e.,the first Tuesday after November 1), coinciding with the general elections of various other federal, state, and local races.
The Electoral College electors then schedule to formally cast their electoral votes on the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December (i.e., the first Monday after December 12) at their respective state capitals. Congress then certify the results in early January, and the presidential term begins on Inauguration Day, which since the passage of the Twentieth Amendment has been set at January 20.
The Electoral College and its procedure is established in the U.S. Constitution by Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 4; and the Twelfth Amendment (which replaced Clause 3 after it was ratified in 1804). Under Article II, Section 1, Clause 2, the manner for choosing electors is determined by each state legislature, not directly by the federal government.
Many state legislatures used to select their electors directly instead of using any form of popular vote, but the political parties in the various states now conduct their own separate elections to help choose their slate of electors. The Twenty-third Amendment, ratified in 1961, then granted electoral votes to Washington, D.C. Electors can vote for anyone, but unpledged electors or faithless electors have been rare in modern times.
The nomination process, consisting of the primary elections and caucuses and the nominating conventions, was not specified in the Constitution, but was developed over time by the states and the political parties. These primary elections are generally held between January and June before the general election in November, while the nominating conventions are held in the summer.
This too is an indirect election process, one in which voters in the various states, the District of Columbia, as well as those in U.S. territories, cast ballots for a slate of delegates to a political party’s nominating convention, who then in turn elect their party’s presidential nominee.
Each party’s presidential nominee or the convention may then choose a vice presidential running mate to join with him or her on the same ticket, and this choice is often rubber-stamped by the conventions, depending on that convention’s rules. Because of changes to national campaign finance laws since the 1970s regarding the disclosure of contributions for federal campaigns, presidential candidates from the major political parties usually declare their intentions to run as early as the spring of the previous calendar year before the election (almost 18 months before Inauguration Day).