The Path to Presidency

A Brief Introduction

Every four years, a presidential election occurs. The 22nd amendment of the United States Constitution dictates that a president can only be elected twice. They can serve up to two four-year terms, but they may serve an additional two years to finish another president’s term. A president can serve a total of ten years. This amendment was passed by Congress on March 21st, 1947 and ratified on February 27th, 1951. Congress limited presidential terms following President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fourth elected term. 

Running for president of the United States is an extensive process that begins a year and a half before the general election takes place, where candidates campaign and debate to become president.

The Prerequisites to Presidency

To be eligible to run for President of the United States, a candidate must be a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years of age, and have lived in the United States for at least 14 years.

Spring of the Year Before the Presidential Election

The spring the year before the election, anyone who wants to run for office announces their candidacy. They must raise or spend $5,000 or more for their campaign to officially be considered part of the presidential race, and  must register with the Federal Election Commission. Candidates name a principal campaign committee to raise and spend campaign funds. Primary campaigning for candidates begins and will take place up until the national party conventions.

Summer of the Year Before the Presidential Election

In the summer of the year prior to the election, the debates begin. These debates are called the primary and caucus debates. The candidates among the same party debate one another on policies and national issues. Multiple rounds of debates occur, and do not end until the national party conventions. A candidates performance at these debates earns them support of voters, which helps them become nominated at the national party conventions.

January to June of the Election Year

Primaries and Caucuses occur between January and June of the election year. A state hosts either a primary or a caucus for each party where the public votes on the available Democrat and Republican nominees running for the general election. The primaries and caucuses can take place anywhere from January to June of the election year, with most take place on Super Tuesday: the day where the largest amount of US states hold their primaries and caucuses.

State Primaries

The state primaries are run by the state and local government where voting happens through secret ballots. There are six categories of primary elections:

  1. Closed Primaries

  2. Partially Closed Primaries

  3. Partially Open Primaries

  4. Open to Unaffiliated Voters Primaries

  5. Open Primaries

  6. Top-Two Primaries

Closed Primaries
A voter must be a registered party member, crossover voting – registering as one party, but voting for the other – is not allowed, and independent/unaffiliated voters are excluded.

Partially Closed Primaries
State law permits political parties to choose whether or not to allow independent/ unaffiliated voters to participate. Parties can still exclude members of opposing parties.

Partially Open Primaries
Crossover voting is permitted, but voters must publicly declare their ballot choice or their ballot selection may be regarded as a form of registration with the corresponding party.

Open to Unaffiliated Voters Primaries
A number of states only allow unaffiliated voters to participate in any party they choose. Primaries do not allow voters who are registered to a party to participate in the other party’s primary, and crossover voting is not permitted.

Open Primaries
In open primaries, states do not ask voters to choose parties on the voter registration form.

Top-Two Primaries
This format uses a common ballot listing all candidates on the same ballot. The top two voted candidates in each race, regardless of party, advance on.

Caucuses are private meetings of political parties, held at county, district, or precinct level. Party members divide themselves into groups based on the candidate they support, with undecided voters forming their own group. Each group gives speeches supporting their candidate to persuade others to join. The number of voters in each group determines how many delegates each candidate wins. Depending on the party rules, the delegates selected may have to go to a county or state convention before attending the national convention.

Delegates are individuals who represent their state at their parties national conventions. Following the primary and caucus election, delegates are tied to the candidate their constituents voted for and they cannot vote for others. Superdelegates are only a part of the Democratic party and are delegates who are not tied to their constituents’ candidate and may vote for any candidate at the convention. The candidate who receives the majority of a party’s delegates wins the party nomination for the Presidency.

How Delegates Are Awarded
Each party has their own method to determine how many delegates are pledged to vote for the candidates at their national convention.

Democrats use the proportional method: each candidate is awarded a number of delegates in proportion to their support in the state caucus or the number of primary votes they won.

Republican party rules allow the state to choose between using the proportional method, like the Democrats, or they can choose the winner-takes-all method: the candidate with the most votes wins.

How to Become a Delegate
Delegates and superdelegates are chosen by the party’s state committee. The party committee looks for certain aspects that would qualify someone to become a delegate. Being an active member of your chosen political party, volunteering for the party, staying current on party concerns, policies, and voting for party members at local elections all can contribute to a person becoming a delegate. The earlier a person starts supporting a candidate, the better. Supporting a candidate can be done through: grassroots campaigning, attending the candidate’s campaign trail events, and using social media to promote the candidate. At a caucus, a person should deliver a well-written speech for their candidate. Or a person can apply to be on the ballot in the primaries. Some states require potential delegates to be on the ballot and whoever wins becomes a delegate.

July to Early September of the Election Year

After the primaries and caucuses have concluded, the candidates go to their respective party’s national convention. At the national conventions, the party presidential candidate is chosen through a vote of delegates. The national conventions occur between July and Early September of the election year, and take place over the course of three to four days. 

In rare occasions when no candidate has the majority of delegates, the convention is considered contested, starting rounds of voting until a winner is chosen.  

In rare occasions when no candidate has the majority of delegates, the convention is considered contested, and another round of voting occurs. Superdelegates do not vote in this round. If no nominee is determined, the convention is considered brokered, leading to another round of voting where delegates are allowed to vote for any candidate, and Superdelegates can now contribute. Rounds of voting will continue until one candidate receives the majority of delegates.

Once the candidate is confirmed, they become the presidential nominee for their party for the general election, and officially announce their vice presidential running mate. From here, campaigning for the general election begins.

September and October of the Election Year

Between September and October of the election year, the parties presidential nominees participate in the presidential debates. Between debates, advertisements, and campaigning, nominees hope to get the most votes possible.

During this time period, nominees may shift their focus to swing states. Swing states are states that have a strong, almost equal, support for both political parties. Winning over a swing state is important in determining the results for the overall election. There are roughly 30 states that have voted for the same party for the past five elections, and 40 of the 50 states have voted for the same party since 2000. These states most likely will not change their position, so nominees have a good idea of what states they will automatically win. Swing states, on the other hand, do change their position, which is what makes winning them over so crucial. The more swing states a nominee receives, the nominee can have a better chance of winning the election.

Current Swing States

NevadaViriginiaMichiganNew Hampshire


The First Tuesday After the First Monday in November of the Election Year

The general election occurs on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November of the election year. Any US citizen who has already registered to vote can go to their local voting polls and cast their vote for the candidate of their choosing. 21 states and the District of Columbia allow same-day voter registration; any US citizen can go to the poll, register, and cast their vote. The votes of all US citizens are considered the popular vote. The result from each state lets the electors in the Electoral College know how they should cast their vote. Electors almost always vote for their state’s choice, but there are the rare occasions where they do not. The president is not yet chosen, but a projected winner will be announced. The Electoral College must still vote.

First Monday After the Second Wednesday in December of the Election Year

In December following the general election, the Electoral College cast their votes. The Electoral College was established in the Constitution as a compromise between Congress electing the president and the popular vote of the US citizens electing president. The Electoral College is an indirect popular election where selected electors vote for the president. There is a three-step process for the Electoral College: the selection of electors, the meeting of the electors where they vote for the president and the vice president, and the counting of the electoral votes by Congress. 

The Electoral College is made of 538 electors. Nominees need a total of 270+/538 (the absolute majority) electoral votes in order to win the presidential election. Each state is allowed as many electors as it has members of the House of Representatives, plus two more electors for their senators. For example, New Hampshire has two representatives, so New Hampshire gets two electors, and two more electors for its senators. So the total electors New Hampshire will have is four. Washington D.C. has three electors that participate as well. On January 6th, after the votes are tallied and delivered to Congress, the sitting Vice President officially announces the winner of the presidential election.

January 20th Following the Election Year

Inauguration Day takes place on January 20th (or January 21st if the 20th is a Sunday) every four years at the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. There are nine activities that take place on Inauguration Day: the morning worship service the procession to the Capitol, the vice president swearing-in ceremony, the president swearing-in ceremony, the Inaugural Address, the departure of the outgoing president, the Inaugural Luncheon, the Inaugural Parade, and finally the Inaugural Ball.

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