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JEFF BROOMES: Eyes on US election


JEFF BROOMES: Eyes on US election

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OVER THE PAST few months I have been sought after by my friends and others for an explanation of the process for the American presidential elections. 

I give thanks to Dr Oustatcher, my social studies teacher at Nyack High School for stimulating my interest in such matters.

Today, I will share my knowledge with the public. The United States, like in most “free” nations, has a democratic governing structure defined by the judicial, the legislative and the Executive. There is a system of checks and balances that interlocks each of them.

These structures permeate the nation from federal, state and local (inclusive of city and county) allowing for a high degree of local government.  My focus today, however, will be at the federal level.

The selection, or election process, for each position is clearly outlined. All Supreme Court justices are nominated by the president but must be confirmed by the Senate. These are lifelong appointments that are often challenged and sometimes rejected.

The House of Representatives and the Senate differ in make-up and in length of appointment. The Senate is comprised of 100 persons, each of whom is elected for a six-year term. All 50 states are allocated two senators. One third of this body is elected every two years.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, is made up based on state population. The higher the population (like California) the more representatives allocated.  The lower the population (like Vermont) the fewer representatives assigned.

The House of Representatives is comprised of 435 members.  All members of this body are elected for a two-year period at which point they must all demit office and seek re-election. 

The presidential elections are a more complicated process that often runs for more than a year. The elected individual serves a four-year term and is also, since the 1940s (after President Franklyn Roosevelt) limited to a maximum of two terms.

Each of the major political parties (Democratic and Republican) conducts a series of elections involving all 50 states and associate territories (Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands). These are known as primaries from which delegates are selected to attend a convention. 

Again, the number of delegates is allocated based on state population.  There is also a category known as super delegates who are usually elected officials and party leaders. While the elected delegates are bound to one candidate or the other based on results from the primaries, the super delegates are free to vote as they decide.

After the respective conventions, each party presents a candidate for president.  Elections are then held on the first Tuesday in November.  Indeed, all elections for legislative positions are also held on this date. The winners do not assume office until January of the following year.

The person who gets the majority of votes in the presidential elections is not always the winner.  The vote process simply chooses electors for the Electoral College where the winner is determined.

There are 538 members representing the aggregate of state allocations in the House of Representatives and the Senate, plus three from the District of Columbia (the capital). 

The first candidate to achieve 270 electors (50 per cent plus one), becomes president.  If there is a third party candidate, it becomes possible that no one may reach that number. In such a case, the House of Representatives votes and decides on the presidency.  

Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also served as vice-president of the BCA and director of the WICB. Email: [email protected]