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Thursday, February 16, 2012

(Published in The New Indian Express, School Edition, dated 16 February 2012, retrieved from

NOTE: This is not an opinion piece. It's a summary of the US Presidential election process. 

The 57th United States Presidential Election will be held towards the end of this year. Incumbent  President Barack Obama will be running for his second and final term for the Democrats, while the Republican party is yet to finalise a candidate.
The process of electing the US President, which depends on the country’s constitution, as well as the laws of the states, has changed considerably over time, and is a rather complicated one.
How are the candidates chosen?
There are several conditions for eligibility of nominees for candidature for the posts of President and Vice-President. These are:
·         They must be citizens of the US, born in the US
·         They must have been resident in the US for at least 14 years
·         They must be at least 35 years of age
Usually, political parties pick their candidates for Presidency at “conventions”, which are meetings attended by delegates. The delegates are chosen in several ways, themselves:
·         For their importance in the party
·         By state primary elections, with secret ballots
·         By state caucuses, with public voting in place of secret ballots
In order to be chosen as the party’s candidate, the nominee must win a majority of delegate votes. S/he will then choose a vice-presidential candidate. The President and Vice-President run on the same “ticket”. This means, the Vice-President is automatically elected with the President for whom s/he is running mate.
How is the President chosen?
The US President is elected by an “electoral college”. This is made up of “electors”. Electors are people who have been given Certificates of Ascertainment by their respective State Governors. They will then serve as delegates of the state in the Electoral College, which will eventually elect the President. Most registered voters, who don't hold a commission or elected office in the Federal government, are eligible to serve as electors. Each state has as many electors as it has senators (2 from each) and representatives (the number depends on the population of the state).
There are several steps involved in choosing the President. First, separate elections will be held in all 50 states, and the District of Columbia (D.C.). Electors “pledged” to one of the tickets will be chosen by voters in these 51 elections. Usually, in order to avoid confusing voters, the names of the Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates the elector supports will be written on the ballot slip, and not the name of the elector.
With the exception of Maine and Nebraska, all the other states and D.C. follow the winner-takes-all formula. This means that whichever ticket gets most votes in the state, gets all the electors. In Maine and Nebraska, only two electors are chosen in this manner. The others will be chosen by the winner in each congressional district, with each district voting for one elector.
The Electoral College must then cast votes for the President. Now, all the electors have already pledged their support for one ticket, and are expected not to violate this pledge. So far, most electors have stuck to their pledge.
The person who receives a clear majority of the Electoral College’s votes will be declared President, and his running-mate will be Vice President. If it so happens that none of the candidates gets a majority, the President will be chosen by the House of Representatives, from among the top three. Each state delegation in Congress will cast one vote. The Vice-President will be chosen from the top two.
How does the Electoral College system help or harm candidates?
In most states, one of the two main parties is likely to have overwhelming support and hence is likely to win all the electoral votes. This means there is no point in candidates who don’t have a shot at winning wasting their time and money on campaigns in these states.
For example, most Southern states lying in the Bible Belt (like Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina), are likely to go with the Republican candidate, while the more liberal states, such as New York, California and Massachusetts, have traditionally favoured Democrats.
This makes the “swing states” crucial. These are also called “battleground states” or “purple states” (since it could go the way of either the Red Republicans or the Blue Democrats). The most ardent campaigns take place in these states. Examples are Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida.
There are several criteria for designating states as "swing states". Mostly, they are states where the winner has been elected by a narrow margin, sometimes less than 1 percent. A state may also be considered a battleground state because one of the candidates has a personal connection there. For example, in 2004, North Carolina was considered a swing state because it was home to Senator John Edwards, the running mate to Democratic candidate John Kerry.
What are the critical issues?
This time round, America is faced by several challenges – a shaky economy, huge public debt, and war-weariness.
As President, Obama has signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in February 2009 and the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorisation, and Job Creation Act of 2010 in December 2010, to provide economic stimulus. He also brought in a controversial healthcare bill, which has ticked off the Catholic church and several other religious organisations by requiring hospitals run by them to provide patients with the ‘morning after’ pill, which is considered by some religions to be a form of abortion.
On the war front, he began large scale withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and ordered the military operation that resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden.
While polls have shown that most Americans are dissatisfied with the state of the economy, the tide has turned in favour of Obama of late.


Democratic Party
Barack Obama, incumbent President of the United States (Illinois)
Republican Party
Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts
Rick Santorum, former Senator (Pennsylvania)
Newt Gingrich, former US Speaker of the House of Representatives (Georgia)
Ron Paul, US Representative (Texas)

Candidates who withdrew nomination
Democratic Party
Warren Mosler (withdrew in April 2010)

Republican Party
Tim Pawlenty (withdrew on August 14, 2011 and endorsed Mitt Romney)
Herman Cain (withdrew on December 3, 2011)
Gary Johnson (withdrew on December 28, 2011)
Michele Bachmann (withdrew on January 4, 2012)
Jon Huntsman, Jr. (withdrew on January 15, 2012)
Rick Perry (withdrew on January 19, 2012 and endorsed Newt Gingrich)

Candidates no one takes seriously
Darcy Richardson (activist from Florida)
Jim Rogers (Oklahoma)
Randall Terry (activist from New York)
Vermin Supreme (performance artist from Massachusetts)

NOTE: These nominees are all from the Democratic Party


January 3, 2012: State level primaries and caucuses begin in Iowa
June 5, 2012: State level primaries end across the nation, with Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota
August 27-30: Republican Party convention will be held in Tampa
September 3-6: Democratic Party will be held in Charlotte
November 6, 2012: 57th United States Presidential Election will be held
January 20, 2013: Inauguration Day. The President will move into office.


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