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Civics and Government

Branches of Government: Executive - Election of the President

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden

The Executive Branch

The President is the head of the Executive Branch. The powers of the President of the United States are set forth in Article II of the Constitution.

The executive branch of Government enforces the laws of the land. When George Washington was president, people recognized that one person could not carry out the duties of the President without advice and assistance. The President receives this help from the Vice President.

The President's Lawmaking Role

The President plays a large role in making America's laws. His job is to approve the laws that Congress creates. When both chambers have approved a bill, they send it to the President. If he agrees with the law, he signs it and the law goes into effect.

illustration of the President signing a law

The President's Lawmaking Role

Which best describes the President’s role in making laws?

  1. funds laws.
  2. approves laws.
  3. drafts laws.

The President's Lawmaking Role

Which best describes the President’s role in making laws?

  1. funds laws.
  2. approves laws.
    The legislature funds and drafts laws, the President approves (or vetoes) laws.
  3. drafts laws.

Let's See How a President is Elected

According to the United States Constitution, a presidential election is to be held once every fourth year. The process of electing a President and Vice-President begins long before Election Day.

Candidates from both major and minor political parties and independent candidates begin to raise money and campaign at least one year in advance of the general presidential election. In order to officially represent a political party, a candidate must be nominated by that party.

Let's See How a President is Elected

The nominating process officially begins with the first state primaries and caucuses, which usually occur in the month of February of the election year. It is at these local events that voters are given their first chance to participate in electing the nation’s next President.

magnifiying glass on a map

VOTE button

Let's See How a President is Elected

There are many factors that influence who will ultimately become the candidate for a party. The public’s perception of the candidates is influenced by such things as media reports, public opinion polls, candidate preference surveys, and advertising.

election office

Campaign Ad

What is the message of this campaign ad?

McCain campain ad

  1. McCain is a good debater.
  2. Vote for McCain.

Campaign Ad

What is the message of this campaign ad?

McCain campain ad

  1. McCain is a good debater.
  2. Vote for McCain.
    This ad suggests you should vote for McCain since he is a winner.

Elections

The spring of an election year is characterized by intense campaigning for primaries and caucuses all over the nation. This process reaches its peak at the national conventions of the political parties. Once at the national party conventions, the delegates from the states cast votes for the person who will represent the political party in the November general election.

election graphics

Elections

In order to secure a party’s nomination, a candidate must receive a majority of the votes from the delegates. It is not unusual for delegates to vote several times before one candidate secures the majority of the votes and officially becomes that party’s candidate for the election to determine the next President of the United States. The candidate for President then must choose a vice-presidential candidate.

voting ballot

Elections

If a President is running for re-election, this nomination process must be completed. Even if the President does not have any opponents from within his own political party, the national convention will still occur. The conventions are extravaganzas, full of pageantry and showmanship. They serve to help jump start the general election campaign for the presidential candidate.

patriotic hats

Elections

The primary election process ends with the national conventions of the political parties. Once the national conventions have been held, and the candidates from the political parties have been nominated and chosen, the presidential election begins in earnest as a contest between the candidates from the political parties.

illustration of two people in a debate

Elections

How is the Vice-President selected?

  1. by the Presidential candidate
  2. by caucuses
  3. by vote

Elections

How is the Vice-President selected?

  1. by the Presidential candidate
    the caucuses and voters select the President/Presidential candidate, “The candidate for President then must choose a vice-presidential candidate.”
  2. by caucuses
  3. by vote

Elections

Some people choose to run for president without being affiliated with a political party. Such independent candidates need not concern themselves with getting nominated by a party, but must meet other requirements.

For example, such candidates are required to collect a large number of signatures to support their nominations. The sources of funding used by independent candidates comes from personal funds and loans as well as fundraising campaigns.

illustration of money

Elections

How do candidates from independent parties pay for their political campaigns?

  1. Personal funds
  2. Loans
  3. Fundraising
  4. All of the above

Elections

How do candidates from independent parties pay for their political campaigns?

  1. Personal funds
  2. Loans
  3. Fundraising
  4. All of the above
    “The sources of funding used by independent candidates comes from personal funds and loans as well as fundraising campaigns.”

Elections

The candidates campaign right up until Election Day, when the nation finally votes for its President. The candidates travel throughout the country, making public appearance and giving speeches.

The parties and the candidates use media advertising, direct mailings, telephone campaigns, and other means to persuade the voters to choose one candidate over the other(s). Often, these measures also serve to point out the weaknesses of the candidates from the other parties involved in the general election.

Jimmy Carter

Elections

In this national presidential election, every citizen of legal age (who has taken the steps necessary in his/her state to meet the voting requirements, such as registering to vote) has an opportunity to vote.

However, the President is not chosen by direct popular vote. The Constitution requires that a process known as the Electoral College ultimately decides who will win the general election.

illustration of a person voting

The Electoral College

The Electoral College is a method of indirect popular election of the President of the United States. The authors of the Constitution put this system in place so that careful and calm deliberation would lead to the selection of the best-qualified candidate.

Voters in each state actually cast a vote for a block of electors who are pledged to vote for a particular candidate. These electors, in turn, vote for the presidential candidate. The number of electors for each state equals its Congressional representation.

U.S. Capital Building

The Electoral College

After Election Day, on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December, these electors assemble in their state capitals, cast their ballots, and officially select the next President of the United States.

Legally, the electors may vote for someone other than the candidate for whom they were pledged to vote. This phenomenon is known as the "unfaithful" or "faithless" elector. Generally, this does not happen.

Therefore, the candidate who receives the most votes in a state at the general election will be the candidate for whom the electors later cast their votes. The candidate who wins in a state is awarded all of that state’s Electoral College votes. Maine and Nebraska are exceptions to this winner-take-all rule.

The Electoral College

The votes of the electors are then sent to Congress where the President of the Senate opens the certificates, and counts the votes. This takes place on January 6, unless that date falls on a Sunday. In that case, the votes are counted on the next day.

An absolute majority is necessary to prevail in the presidential and the vice presidential elections, that is, half the total plus one electoral votes are required. With 538 Electors, a candidate must receive at least 270 votes to be elected to the office of President or Vice President.

The Electoral College

Should no presidential candidate receive an absolute majority, the House of Representatives determines who the next president will be. Each state may cast one vote and an absolute majority is needed to win.

Similarly, the Senate decides who the next Vice President will be if there is no absolute majority after the Electoral College vote. Elections have been decided by Congress in the past.

The House of Representatives elected Thomas Jefferson president in the election of 1800 when the Electoral College vote resulted in a tie.

The Electoral College

Who are you actual voting for when you cast your vote for a Presidential candidate?

  1. that candidate
  2. an Electoral College voter

The Electoral College

Who are you actual voting for when you cast your vote for a Presidential candidate?

  1. that candidate
  2. an Electoral College voter
    Voting for President is indirect, the President is elected by the Electoral College. “Voters in each state actually cast a vote for a block of electors.” Interestingly, Al Gore actually won the popular vote in 2000 but lost in the Electoral College to George W. Bush. This was the second time this had happened in the history of the U.S.

The Electoral College

When the Electoral College vote was so split that none of the candidates received an absolute majority in the election of 1824 the House elected John Quincy Adams President. Richard Johnson was elected Vice President by the Senate when he failed to receive an absolute majority of electoral votes in the election of 1836.

The President-elect and Vice President-elect take the oath of office and are inaugurated two weeks later, on January 20th.

President Regan being sworn into office