US elections

Elections lie at the heart of the political process. It is the formal process of selecting people for public office or for accepting or rejecting a rule through voting.

It is fairly understandable that we debate on who would rule over us and what rules are being followed. In our conceptual understanding, elections are the key part in democracy. The most important notion in this idea is the concept of representation. Elections provide a brief contribution to democratic governance. In modern times, application of direct elections like that of the Greek period has become obsolete and impractical. Therefore, the idea of representative government came into the limelight in order to solve this problem.

FUNCTIONS OF ELECTIONS

Elections facilitate the people to choose their leaders and empower them to hold the representatives accountable for their office by subjecting to the rules of election accounts them from the succession of leadership or avoid nepotism. Moreover, the process of election is highly competitive requiring the candidates to expose their records and intentions to the public. Therefore, the elections provide a platform for discussions of public interests and facilitate public expression and opinion. We can then say that one of the most important functions of election is to educate the public politically and provide them with enough information to ease them with their decisions.

Secondly, elections also supplement and reinforce the stability and legitimacy of the political community. One way to do this is that elections link citizens to each other and this way strengthens the concept of polity. This result in the idea that elections help to facilitate social and political integration.

Another function of election is that it gives the citizen an opportunity to choose their representatives legitimizing their say in what they want and what they need. This further increases their dignity and their sense of belongingness is increased.

Expanding the above into 7 main points, elections have a variety of functions:

  1. Recruitment: Elections are a principal source of political recruitment. Influential candidates are elected who will be best suited to serve the public interest and party ideology.
  2. Making governments: The main function of election is to make legitimate governments who cater to the needs of the citizen.
  3. Provide representatives: Free and fair elections are a means through which public demands are channeled to the government.
  4. Influencing policy: Election and their party politics are often structured in such a way as to influence the government policy.
  5. Educating voters: The election provides the citizen with wide arrays of information about the party, candidates, policies, current governments, the political system, etc. This usually leads to politically educating the people about their choice of representation.
  6. Building legitimacy: Elections authorize and build the legitimacy of the government to the people by providing justification for a system of rule.
  7. Strengthening elites: Elections can also be a means through which elites can manipulate and control the masses.

REPRESENTATION

In political term, representation is described as a relationship through which a group of people or an individual stands or acts on behalf of a larger group of people. In the governmental system, representation is often understood the concept of democracy. Representation strengthens and legitimizes democracy.

There are two systems available in representative system mainly explaining how the votes can be transferred to votes in the electoral college. The first one is known as the majoritarian system in which large political parties win a typically higher proportion of seats than the proportion of votes they receive in the election. For example, the UK political system follows the system in which for a long time, a single party is able to firmly establish despite the fact that none of the political parties in the election has been able to secure majority since 1935.

This system includes:

  • Single member plurality system (USA, Canada, UK, India) which is also known as ‘first past the post’ is a system where the whole country is divided into single-member constituencies, usually of equal size and voters select a single candidate usually by marking a cross on the ballot paper.
  • Second ballot system is used traditionally in France (although there have been changes in France’s electoral system). In this system, there are single candidate constituencies and single choice voting. To win the election, a candidate requires an overall majority of votes and if the candidate is unable to secure than a second, ‘run-off’ ballot is held between the leading two candidates.
  • Alternative vote system or the supplementary vote is common in Australian House of Representatives and in UK election of London Mayor. It is a preferential voting behaviour where the candidates are ranked in preference. In order to win, candidates must gain 50% of all votes cast. If the first preferred candidate wins then the votes are transferred to the second preference. This continues until one candidate has a majority.

The other system is known as the proportional representative system which propounds that parties should be represented in a Parliament in proportion to their electoral strength which is equal to their proportional votes. It guarantees or at least provides a confirmation on the equal relationship between the seats won by the party and the votes gained in the election.

This system includes:

  • Additional Member System which is popular in Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Russia (state Duma) and the UK (Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly) is a system in which a proportion of seats are filled by the FPTP system. The remaining seats are then filled using a party list where the electoral process cast two votes - one for the candidate in the constituency and another for the party.
  • Single-Transferable-Vote System is another proportional type which is followed in The Republic of Ireland and the UK. in this, there are multi member constituencies each of which returns up to five members. Parties may nominate as many candidates as there are a total number of seats to be filled. Candidates are elected if they reach a quota according to the Droop formula. The quota is calculated by dividing the total number of votes cast by the number of seats to be filled plus 1. If there are 1000 votes cast for 4 seats in a constituency, then the quota required for a candidate to win is 1000/4 (+1) = 200+1 = 201 votes. If not, all seats are filled then his votes are redistributed to the next candidate and so on.
  • Party-List System is another main system which is popular in countries like Israel, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland and the EU Parliament. In this system, the entire country is treated as a single constituency and the voters vote for the party and not for candidates. The parties then are allocated seats in direct proportion to the votes they gained.

US PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION NOMINATION PROCESS

In order to briefly understand the process of US Presidential election nomination, we must eventually focus on how the electoral college is formed.

The Electoral College is the primary body which files and nominates the candidate. The US election system is unique in a way that the President is not directly elected by the people but by the electoral college which is comprised of officials. This system follows the rules of the American Constitution and relates to the state and federal laws. Each state of the US has a number of electors in the electoral college which is proportionate to its population. It comprised of the sum of its number of senators which is two and representatives in the House.

In practice, Americans on election day vote the voters or simply the electoral college and not the candidates themselves. Though, in most cases, the electoral names are not on the ballot itself. For example, California, the most populous state in the country, has 55 electoral votes or 55 number of officials in their electoral college. Other few small states and the District of Columbia have only three votes. The electoral college, today has 538 electors. A candidate needs to win a number of 270 electoral votes which is half of the total plus one in order to win the election.

In this process, the states hold a number of elections for the electoral college. There are two types of elections held by the states, primary and caucus and other states may use a combination of both. These elections are generally held in the months of January and February and end about mid-June before the general election in November.

  1. Primary elections are run by the state and the local governments. Registered voters participate in selecting the candidate for the party's nomination by voting, as in a general election. After the calculation of the votes, the number of votes a candidate receives decides the number of delegates they are gained. Primary system can be either open (vote for a candidate outside of the party) or closed (be a member of the party to vote for that party's candidate). State governments in this process usually fund and run primary elections in the same way as they do in the general election where the voters go to a polling place and vote. It’s a winner-takes-it-all condition.
  2. Caucus: In this system, the party members pledge and support a candidate which is credential and are identified as the potential candidate. After a series of comprehensive discussion and debate, an informal vote is held which will decide the candidates that will serve as delegates at the national party convention. The advantage is that the state party performs and monitors the process directly instead of the state and local governments running them. The disadvantage is that most national election laws do not normally apply to it.
  3. National Party Convention: It is a system in which the party’s final nomination is publicly announced after the primaries and caucuses are completed in each state. It is held every 4 years. The National Party Committee is the main body which regulates and decides the venue and dates of the convention. During this, the electoral college cast their vote for a party candidate and the candidate with the most votes gets the party's nomination. The end of the convention defines the beginning of the general election process (last stage). The National Party Convention has 3 main functions: choose the presidential candidate, the vice-presidential candidate and to decide on the party platform.

There are four most common types according to which election process is determined. They are open, closed, semi-open and semi-closed. Eventually, it is the wishes of each state to decide which type it wants to adopt.

Open primaries and caucuses allow all registered voters, regardless of any party affiliation, to vote in any election. The states that use this system may use a single ballot and the electorates choose on the ballot itself. Closed primaries and caucuses require voters who are registered with a specific party to be able to vote for that party’s candidates. Semi-open primaries and caucuses admit any registered voter to vote in any party contest, but they must request a party’s specific ballot (party affiliation). Semi-closed primaries and caucuses follow the same rules as a closed system.

ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN ELECTORAL PROCESS

In America, much like in any other democratic establishment, the political parties are the essence of democracy. It is an all-inclusive feature of American democratic system as the parties are comprised of people from different race, color, culture, religion linguistic background and different socio-economic background. But the most important element that binds them together as a political party is the fact that these people have a common mutual agreement on a certain type of ideology, common understanding on issues related to public interest and in deciding a future leader. Therefore, political parties are an integral part of US electoral process and it is the main engine that drives the elections. Their main functions include recruiting members who would suit best as workers and even who would serve to be their nomination, participate in the electoral process, act as a mechanism to operate as a means to educate the public opinion and many other functions.

In the American system, there are five main mechanisms which are necessary for the inclusion of party or candidate representatives in the electoral process. These are:

  • Multiparty involvement in the drafting or formulating electoral legislation and implementation.
  • The political parties have the option to include all party representatives as members of the electoral policy-making body (electoral commission) either in a full-time capacity, as non-voting observers, or as participants during electoral commission meetings.
  • A third mechanism is to involve political parties in the actual activities of the elections as either staff members of an election management body, such as polling officials, or as being a responsible member for specific elements of the process, such as voter registration.
  • Invitation to parties and candidates to nominate their representatives to observe/monitor the electoral process; especially key functions such as registration, polling, and the count itself.
  • The last is a highly recommended method which is known as the formation of a consultative national committee of all parties/candidates for briefing and/or guideline discussions on a weekly basis throughout the process of elections.

FACTORS INFLUENCING ELECTION CAMPAIGN

The American electoral voice is influenced by various factors. There may be short term and long term factors which actually influence the voting pattern. In general, not only in the American experience, citizens usually have the same opinion about a candidate or a political party over a long period of time. But then the scholars and academicians have tried to define varieties of factors which affect the election campaign in the USA. There are 5 factors which actually influence the voting pattern of the electoral process.

They are:

  1. Social identity: the class background, ethnicity or religion of the voter greatly influence the voting preference of the people. Parties tend to cater to social groups rather than to their ideology in order to acquire support.
  2. Party identification: voter’s psychological attachment to a political party and not just affiliation with a particular political ideology or opinion is another main factor of influence. In reality, people tend to learn party affiliation early in life through a process known as political socialization, from family or social ties, as well as the political context during which an individual progress.
  3. Incumbent performance: the voters respond by analyzing and reflecting on the performance of the incumbent government. The people, therefore, rewards those incumbent presidents when the country prospers, and punishing either the incumbent or their political party by not voting when it is not.
  4. Policy issues is another factor where certain voters will also make choices based on specific policy options. The candidates then try to adjust their views by balancing the factors with those that will bring them most gains. However, this factor is less important than the aforementioned factors and can be termed secondary.
  5. Candidate traits. Appearance and candidate’s personality also influence the voting behavior. The candidate who is a good orator and who is almost as good at influencing the general public will always garner a better number of votes. No doubt, this is in turn after selecting the party affiliation and preference.

For an individual, there are three main factors which will decide who he/she may vote. They are

  • Orientations on public policy issues
  • Evaluations of government performance
  • Evaluations of candidate characteristics and traits

Election campaigns are important because they have the condition to create and spread the party’s message which is specifically designed to persuade voters. The campaign should be crafted in such a way that it is in time to influence the voters and should be successful. They must decide on what issues to emphasize as well as when to campaign the most. Political parties try different campaigning strategies because there aren’t any style which specifically proven successful.

Campaigns are a necessary means to remind voters about their voting preferences. Election campaigns not only influence voters but they also affect how people chose to vote. Campaigns can also affect the reasons people vote in a certain way, which is caused by a process called priming. If campaigns can influence the focus on issues or details that are significantly beneficial to them, or if they can control the agenda set for the election, they are more likely to change the minds of the voters.

THE US CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION

The US political system is a bicameral structure of legislation. It is known as the Congress and consists of two houses - the House of Senate and the House of Representatives. The members are elected through direct election.

The Senate is the upper house of the US Congress. Each state has two senators as representatives of the state, regardless of the number of population. This legally ensures equal representation of each state in the Senate. U.S. Senators serve six-year terms.

According to the U.S. Constitution, Senators must have the following requirements:

  • Should be at least 30 years old
  • Should be a U.S. citizen for at least nine years
  • Must be a resident of the state he or she represents

It has 100 members in a dual seat constituency or two senate seats. The senate is divided into three groups which are known as ‘class’. One class will be up for election every two years. The election to the Senate coincides with the elections to the House of Representatives which is normally held on the first Tuesday in the month of November. They are elected by their state. In most states, a primary election is held first for the Republican and Democratic parties, with the general election following a few months later.

The House of Representatives, commonly referred to as "the House," is the lower house of the US Congress. Each state has representation in the House of Representatives according to the proportion of its population. But the total number of voting representatives is currently fixed at 435. Apart from the state representatives, there are five delegates and one resident commissioner, who do not have full voting rights. Members of House representatives serve two-year terms.

According to the U.S. Constitution, Representatives must have the following requirements:

  • Should be at least 25 years old
  • Should be a U.S. citizen for at least seven years
  • Should be a resident of the state he/she represents

Congressional elections are held every two years where ⅓ of the senators are elected every two years and the remaining sit for a period of 6 years. All the members of House of Representatives seat for election every two years. The US Constitution lays down laws for the method of the election but the states eventually play a key role in deciding the details of the election. The elections are held midway through a president’s term and are therefore also known as midway elections. The U.S. midterm elections give the necessary opportunity to the citizen to rearrange the political makeup of the U.S. Congress.

There are few factors which influence the US Congressional election. Party identification is one such long term factor which influences the outcome. It is evident that voters choose a particular candidate because of their party allegiance and loyalty. They vote for those who they can identify with and who they support. Incumbency is another long-term factor that voters rely on to make decisions. Voters usually have a low level of information of the available candidates, therefore, the incumbents can make an impressive influence on the voting behavior. Voters would have been familiar with the incumbents and therefore they have a better chance of influencing the voters by providing information and ideas.

Typically there are three types of congressional elections:

  1. Primary elections. It is the contest within the party to decide on the party’s nominee.
  2. General elections. The election between all party nominees and individual candidates where the winner becomes a member of the Congress.
  3. Special elections. It is an election contest which takes place in special occasion like when a member leaves the congress in between regular elections.

The U.S. midterm elections give the necessary opportunity to the citizen to rearrange the political makeup of the U.S. Congress. It is viewed as an' opportunity to express their satisfaction or frustration with the president's performance. Therefore, it puts the President in a very complicated situation.

Issues of redistricting and gerrymandering are often at the centre of the Congressional election debate. Redistricting is the process in an election which is concerned with the redrawing of legislative districts. A citizen of the US lives in a Congressional district. By the US federal law, redistricting can appear following a census for two reasons. First, when a state gains or loses legislative districts as a result of the apportionment of congressional districts to the states. Second, governments must redraw districts so that the districts have equal populations, even if the number of districts does not change. Though, some governments may choose to conduct redistricting for narrow political reasons. The most infamous case in recent times was the 2003 re-redistricting in Texas, where Democratic state legislators fled the state to prevent a mid-decade congressional redistricting.

Redistricting affects the nature of political power. It plays an important role in determining which party controls Congress and state and local governments. Even when the population is divided equally, drawing the lines can reward Democrats and punish Republicans or vice versa. Therefore, redistricting has a direct impact on what matters a legislature chooses to tackle, and which to ignore.

Gerrymandering refers to the manipulation of district lines to favor or change political power. It is a deliberate process and, according to opponents, an unfair attempt to redraw district lines to influence the possibility of a particular political result. Incumbents have an urge to create districts that are likely to re-elect them, sometimes dividing communities among one or more districts. There are two types of methods according to which gerrymandering is done - racial gerrymandering and partisan gerrymandering. These two have seen to be the most influential factor that has caused problems between Congress and the White House.