Election Procedure in America


Author: Vishakha Jaiprakash Thanvi, TMV Lokmanya Tilak Law College


An election is a formal process where members of a community choose an individual to run for public office. [1]The election is a contest between different political parties in order to get people’s support. In other words, different political parties participate or challenge each other to get the support of the people on the national, state, and local level. Elections were first used in Greece/ Rome for the selection of leaders. It is a process that gives people the power to choose the right representative for themselves who’s capable enough to lead the nation and its citizens in the right direction, it is thus a decision making process.

A democratic country is a country where the government is ‘Of the People, By the People and For the People. The Numero Uno office of a Democracy is thus, by far the most crucial office, and in an increasingly globalized world, it plays a crucial role in the world polity too. Elections are the key in the hands of the public to choose and instill a leader they feel capable to meet their ideals and run their state. The world’s most powerful democracy also said to hold the most powerful office, the Oval Office influences world affairs most significantly, it is thus imperative to study the election process from a legal point of view to understand the election of the world’s most powerful leader. Let us dive straight into the process and working of the system of American Elections.


The chief and foremost importance of Election is people’s participation in the formation of a government with their elected representative. Elections thus play a prominent role in democratic governance, because direct democracy where the political decision is directly made by the citizens is quite impractical in today’s modern societies, indirect elections give power to one person who’s elected by the people themselves to act on behalf of them, to explain their opinion and understand their views and needs in the society. Voting satisfies an individual’s to feel a sense of belonging, participation of people in an election serves to strengthen their self-esteem & self-respect. Elections also help to bolster political & social integration in the society which also provides adequate political education to the citizens and ensures the responsiveness of governments to the will of the people.


The election process in the United States of America for the president and vice president are indirect elections in which the citizens of the country cast their vote not directly for president and vice president offices instead vote for the members of the electoral college. Every four years, the people of the United States are asked to vote for their choice of president. By law, the maximum period for which the president can stay in office is 8 years. There are two main political parties in the United States, namely the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.    The candidate who receives an absolute majority in the elections with( 270 votes out of 538) is then elected to that office. If no candidate receives an absolute majority of the votes for president, the House of Representatives chooses the most qualifying candidate for the presidency; if no one receives an absolute majority of the votes for vice president, then the Senate elects the Vice President.[2]

Eligibility For Becoming The President Of The United States:

Article 2 of the US Constitution specifies the eligibility for a candidate to stand for the presidential election.

  • The presidential candidate must be a US-born citizen.
  • The candidate must have completed at least 35 years of age or older.
  • The candidate must be a resident of the United States for a term of 14 years.


STEP 1: PRIMARIES & CAUCUSES( choosing the candidate for the Election)

There are mainly only two political parties in the United States for the election but within these two parties, there are many aspirants who aspire to become the president of the country, but the party cannot project each & every aspirant or candidate as the face of the party and the party has to essentially select only one candidate. Now, who would be that one potential candidate becomes a big decision on the part of the party, and for this, the party has prepared a devised mechanism which makes this whole onerous process easier.

A party has certain registered members. In this mechanism at the first stage, delegates are appointed by the registered members of the party. These delegates are also referred to as special members of the party. These delegates then get the responsibility to select one candidate by the process of voting from among all the aspirants for representing the party in the presidential elections. So basically there are two levels of voting in this step. Level one where the delegates are chosen by the members of the party & then level two where one candidate is appointed by the votes of the delegates or special members to represent the party in the election against the opposite party candidate. The selected candidate will then appear in the public and appeal for the vote to win in the election. All the aspirants who are aspiring to become the president have to win the favor of their own party man to be projected as the single candidate of the party. These elections of the delegates are conducted in two ways, mainly primaries & Caucuses.

Primaries are the election where the delegate is chosen by the secret ballot system and whosoever receives the majority in the Election is the winner. Some states hold closed primaries where only party members are allowed to vote, some hold open primaries where any individual can vote, and then some hold blanket primary where anybody can run or vote. Caucuses on the other hand are generally informal local gatherings where the members of the party raise their hand and openly selects the delegates. Caucuses are meetings of neighbors where a group of citizens comes together to choose the best and the most deserving candidate. The primaries and caucuses are generally held between January and June before the federal election with Lowa and New Hampshire holding the first presidential state primary and caucus. The modern nominating process in the US presidential system includes primaries & caucuses which have never been added to the Constitution of the country, primaries are run by local & state governments whereas caucuses are organized by the political parties.


What is the outcome of step 1? The outcome of the first step is that now there are a set of delegates who will further vote for the final candidate of the party. Step 2 is the National Convention which is the grand event conducted by both parties and this event takes place separately for both parties. In this event, all the delegates of a single party assemble together to select one final candidate for the election race. Each party thus holds a national convention to finalize their candidate & based on the votes of the delegates the final candidate of the party is elected. After the selection of the one final candidate, the presidential candidate himself selects one running mate who becomes the candidate for the Post of vice president. At this stage, both the parties are ready with their two candidates one for the post of president and the other for the post of vice president. After this stage, two presidential candidates are chosen from both parties who are in a tussle for winning the election and being the president of the country.


After step two is over, election campaigning and the debates begin. Once the campaigning, appeal to the public, and the debates end, General Elections takes place. In General Elections, the citizen in every state across the country who are major, I.e the ones who are above the age of 18  come together and vote for one president and one vice president, but they do not do this directly as these are indirect elections. The voting usually takes place on the Tuesday after the first Monday of November in a  year, this year the voting will be on 3rd November 2020 and this day is also called super Tuesday. Step 1 & Step 2 explains the internal affairs of the party and this is the stage where the general public comes into the frame where the presidential candidate campaigns for himself and requests the public to cast vote for him and on super Tuesday, the general public comes out and they cast their vote, but the public directly doesn’t cast its vote for the post of president. Instead, they vote for a group of people called Electors. These Electors are the representatives of the general public who go ahead and vote for the president. 538 Electors in total are elected, who are the members of the Congress. [ Congress is the parliament of the USA, it is bicameral & so consists of two houses – House of Representatives & Senates. House of Representatives is the lower house which consists of 435 members and 3 members from Washington D.C. and the Senate is the upper house of the  US parliament which consists of 100 members, there are in total 50 states in the USA so 2 members from each state. The national flag of the United States contains 50 stars in it because it has 50 states, the 51st state is Washington D.C. which has achieved special status.

The members of the senate are called senators, henceforth there are 538 electors( 438 from the lower house and 100 from upper house senate) elected who become the members of the Congress.].


The outcome of step three is the selection of a total of 538 electors. The Electoral College and its procedure are established in the U.S. Constitution by Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 and 4; and the Twelfth Amendment (which replaced Clause 3 after its ratification in 1804) [3]. Electoral College is thus the group of those electors who are elected by the general public who acts as the representative of the people and are responsible for electing the president and the vice president. It is an institution that elects the president and vice president of the United States every four years. There is a total of 538 seats in the electoral college, which means 538 people will come ahead and vote for the presidential candidate, each elector can cast two votes one for the president and another for the vice president. The candidate who receives 50% vote i.e. 270 votes wins the race. Leaving aside Maine and Nebraska if a candidate receives maximum votes within a state then that candidate receives that state’s full quota of electoral college votes


Let’s have a close look at the map of the USA, in the given map the states of the USA are represented with some certain number different for each state. This number indicates the number of electors elected from each state. For example, California has the highest number of electors with 55 electors. The number of electors is based on the population of the state. If we see the map, we can see that Alaska is geographically the largest state in the USA has only 3 electors because of the less population also Texas is the major state in the United States but still, it has only 38 electors the reason again being less population in the state.


The Election in the USA in 2012 was won by Obama from the democratic party defeating Romney of the Republican party. In the above map, blue states denote the states won by Obama and the red one indicates the states won by Romney, Obama managed to get 332 votes far from 270 which are required for winning the Election. When we look at the map, it’s visible that Romney had more states with him but he won the majority of the states with fewer electors and on the other side, Obama won fewer states but the one’s who had more number of electors thus for a candidate to win the election what more matters is the number of electors and not the number of states won.


The Election in the USA in 2016 was won by Donald Trump from the Republican party defeating Hillary Clinton from the Democratic party. Donald Trump won with 304 Electoral votes. The Republican ticket of Donald Trump and Indiana Governor Mike pence defeated the democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and US senator from Virginia Tim Kaine.


The 2020 USA presidential election was held on 3rd November 2020. It is the 59th quadrennial presidential election. The Republican president Donald Trump this time is being challenged by Joe Biden, a nominee of the Democratic party who’s best known to have been served as vice president of the USA with Obama being the president from 2009 to 2017.

STEP 5: INAUGURATION ( president and the vice president takes place in January)

The elections takes place in November, then electoral voting is completed by December & the counting of the votes is given by Congress in January and finally, an official declaration of the president and vice president is given. After the results, the inauguration ceremony is organized on 20th January, this date always remains fixed. In this ceremony, the new president takes the oath in his official capacity, and finally the elections complete with the completion of this inauguration ceremony.


The USA has a presidential form of government, the president being the real executive of the country whereas India has a parliamentary form of government, where the prime minister is the real head and the president is the nominal head or titular of the country. The president in the USA has a term of 4 years whereas in India the tenure of the president in office is 5 years. Re-election of the president in the United States is permitted only once but in India, the re-election of a president can take place any number of Times. Concerning powers of the president, the US president has more veto power than an Indian President as an Indian president can send Bill for reconsideration only once, also president of the united states can use pocket veto power which means that the president of the united states can keep the bill on the table till the session of the Congress dissolves and the bill ultimately dies but this doesn’t happen in India, the president in India can keep the bill for an indefinite period as there is no Constitutionally prescribed time limit defined to give his assent. The president in India has the authority to dissolve the parliament whereas the US president isn’t allowed to do so. Pocket veto power in India was first exercised by president Giani Zail Singh w.r.t to the Indian postal bill which was passed by the Rajiv Gandhi government & the latter was withdrawn in the year 1989.


The Presidential elections in the US are a highly decentralized system. It has been greatly criticized by many critics, they usually argue that the whole election procedure is against democracy & highly undemocratic in nature. The electoral college system is also undemocratic to an extent that except for the two states Maine & Nebraska, both the parties democratic and republican party are quite certain to win in all those states whose residents predominantly vote either for the democratic or republican party. This makes the presidential candidate to concentrate more on the money, time campaigning & debates and because of this process the nor the candidate or the political party feels the need to work upon to increase voter turnout in the country. Moreover, a candidate can also win even without securing the highest number of the national popular vote by just securing the required 270 votes from the most populous states or from the states particularly voting for that party and ignore the rest of the states in the country. Due to this, the will and opinion of the people in the rest of the states get neglected and ultimately it goes against the context of democracy which means that government will be of the people, for the people, and by the people. It can be thus concluded that U.S. presidential elections are certainly one of the most intriguing elections in the world.


  1. https://th.usembassy.gov/summary-of-the-u-s-presidential-election-process/primaries-and-caucuses/
  2. https://www.polyas.com/election-glossary/presidential-election
  3. https://www.google.com/amp/s
  4. Image 1 reference: The Electoral College, top 3 pros and cons , dated 10/2/2020 author – ProCon.org.
  5. Image 2 reference: 2012 united states presidential elections.
  6. Image 3 reference : United States presidential election of 2016, author- David C Backwith.
  7. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki
  8. https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/
  9. https://www.clearias.com/election-process-of-us-president/
  10. https://www.britannica.com/topic/election-political-science/
  11. https://billofrightsinstitute.org/engage/
  12. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20556862

[1] The American Election process, what goes into an election? PPT

[2] United States presidential election – Wikipedia

[3] United States presidential election – Wikipedia