Presidential Elections

Presidential elections are held every four years. This process was set up in the United States Constitution. The Constitution requires a candidate for the presidency to be:

  • At least 35 years old
  • A natural born citizen of the United States
  • A resident of the United States for 14 years

So how does one become President of the United States? The following steps outline the general process for presidential elections.

Step I: Primaries and Caucuses

There are many people who would like to become President.  Each of these people have their own ideas about how our government should work.  Some of these people can belong to the same political party.  That's where primaries and caucuses come in. In these elections, party members get to vote for the candidate that will represent their party in the upcoming general election.

Step 2: National Conventions

At the end of the primaries and caucuses, each party holds a national convention to finalize the selection of one Presidential nominee.  During this time, each Presidential candidate chooses a running-mate (or Vice-Presidential candidate).

Step 3: The General (or Popular) Election

Now that each party is represented by one candidate, the general election process begins.  Candidates campaign throughout the country in an attempt to win the support of voters.  Finally in November, the people vote for one candidate.

When a person casts a vote in the general election, they are not voting directly for an individual Presidential candidate. Instead, voters in each state actually cast their vote for a group of people, known as electors. These electors are part of the Electoral College and are supposed to vote for their state’s preferred candidate.

Step 4: The Electoral College

In the Electoral College system, each state gets a certain number of electors, based on its population.  Each elector gets one electoral vote.  For example, a large state like California gets 54 electoral votes, while Rhode Island gets only four.  All together, there are 538 Electoral votes.

In December (following the general election), the electors cast their votes.  When the votes are counted in January, the Presidential candidate that gets more than half (270) wins the election. 

Source: Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids

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