Power of Elections
The United States is a democracy. That means Americans choose the people who run the government by voting for them in elections. Any citizen of the United States who is at least 18 years old can register to vote. Once registered, a citizen can vote in any election. Each citizen has one vote. But even if you are not old enough to vote, you can still make a difference in elections by speaking up and volunteering. All Americans, young and old, can do this!
The Limits of Power
Elections motivate our leaders to do their jobs well. If Voters aren’t pleased with a leader, they can vote for someone else in the next election. Many elected officials have term limits to keep them from becoming too powerful. For example, a president can only be elected twice. The delegates who wrote the U.S. Constitution created three branches of government. Each branch limits the power of the others.
The Branches of Government
Each of the three branches has a different job. The legislative branches has a different job. The legislative branch creates laws. It is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives, together called congress. The judicial branch interprets those laws. It includes the Supreme Court and other federal counts. The executive branch, led by the president, enforces the laws.
Who is Elected?
Voters elect officials at three levels: local, state, and federal. Local elections determine a town’s council members-the legislative bran. The mayor, who heads the local executive branch, is also elected. In some places, people vote on local judges. At the state level, voters elect the state judges. In federal elections, people vote on U.S. congress people and the president. The president, acting with the Senate, chooses all federal judges.
Why Do Elections Matter?
Americans participate in the government through elections, and every vote can impact generations. Voters influence your education, what medical services are available, and the taxes people pay. They affect how we treat land and wildlife across the country, and even who can vote in the future! You can see the effects of voter decisions in action. Are the roads in your neighborhood smooth and clear? Do crossing guards help you get to school?
It’s a Big Job
Elected leaders have many, many responsibilities. Local governments run schools, libraries, parks, and local buses and trains. They are also in charge of people you see in emergencies, including police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers. Streets, the water supply, and other basics are local, too. State and the federal governments create and enforce laws at their levels. Their decisions can affect education, health, and other services at their level and the local level.
Who Takes Care of What?
Each of the country’s three levels of government has many jobs with many responsibilities. This diagram shows some of tasks each level takes care of separately and together.
Running for Office
Do you want to run for a government office someday? Candidates for all jobs must be U.S. citizens. Most offices have age requirements too. According to the Constitution, a person must be at least 35 years old to be president or vice president. A senator must be 30, and a representative must be 25. Once a person decides to run for office, no matter what level of government, it takes months of hard work and the help of many dedicated people to win.
Time to Party
Candidates generally belong to a political party. A party is a group of people who support a similar approach to government. The United States has two main parties: Democratic and Republican. Both parties agree on many national goals but often disagree on how to reach those goals. Candidates may be members of other, smaller parties, such as the Green and Independent parties.
Every candidate campaigns, particularly presidential candidates. Candidates must raise money to print signs, run TV commercials, and pay many of the hardworking people helping them. They also organize and travel to rallies and speeches in dozens of towns and cities. An important part of a campaign is creating a slogan. This is a short, catchy saying that can help voters remember candidates and what they stand for.
Winning the Primaries
Several candidates can run for a party’s nomination. Each party can nominate only one candidate per election. Parties choose their candidate through primaries or caucuses. In primaries, voters simply cast ballots. In a caucuses, however, voters give or listen to speeches, participate in debates, and then vote. Each party selects a nominee based on who wins those elections. A presidential nominee announces a running mate, who would become vice president if the candidate won.
Supporting a Candidate
Individuals can give their own money to support or work against a candidate. But over the years, laws made it illegal for companies and unions to do so. In 2008, an organization called Citizens United wanted to release a film against candidate Hillary Clinton. Money from companies had helped make the film, which was illegal at the time. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled on the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The justices decided that the donation laws in place partly went against the freedom of speech. Since then, anyone can donate to an independent commercial, film, or other product for or against a candidate. All independent products have to publicly list all the people and groups that donated to it. Companies are still banned from donating directly to a candidate.
Who will Be Elected
The weeks leading up to Election Day are extra busy, filled with rallies and speeches and cheering crowds. Meanwhile, you and all Americans can learn about the candidates and the issues on the ballot. You can read newspaper and voting guides, and watch live debates between the candidates. It’s also important for you to talk with people who have similar opinions to yours as well as those who disagree.
When Are Elections Held?
Americans choose their president every four years on the first Tuesday after November 1. Some states choose their representatives for Congress at the same time. People vote on other federal offices during another national election two years later, halfway through a president’s term. Each states decides when to elect its governor, state legislators, and other state officers. There are also county, city, and school board elections at various times.
Anyone who wants to vote must first register as a voter. If you don’t register, you can’t vote! In most states, voters are automatically registered when they get a driver’s license. but what if you live elsewhere or you don’t drive? To make registration easier for everyone, some states allow voters to register right at a polling place on Election Day. Online registration is common too. There are also voter registration drives. when volunteers remind the public to register and provide any needed paperwork.
Polls are the Place To Be
When Election Day arrives, voters go to polling places, also called polls, to cast their vote. Polling places are usually set up in public buildings such as schools and post offices. Voter are assigned polling places based on where they live. This means a person’s poll should never be far from home! A citizen can only vote once. If someone tries to vote more than once, if it is voter fraud. The person could be arrested.
Votes are cast on ballots that list the names of candidates. The ballot can include candidates running for president, senator, representative, or governor. It could also list local candidates running for mayor, city council, or school board. Most polls uses paper ballots. Voters fill in circles to cast their votes. The votes are then scanned and counted by a machine. Another way to vote is by touch a computer screen or pushing buttons.
In most state and federal elections, candidates win by a plurality. That means the winner must receive more votes than any other candidate. A candidate can often do this without winning a majority, or more than half, of the votes. One major exception is the president, who needs a majority of the electoral votes. Win or lose, candidates thank voters and the people who helped them.
Yes, We Can Vote!
When the US Constitution was written in 1787, it did not set any rules about voting. It left each state to make up their own voting laws. In the first presidential election in 1789, only about 1 percent of the population had suffrage, or could vote. All of them were wealthy white men. The rules in the Constitution, however, allowed it to be changed by adding amendments. Over time, amendments and laws have expanded voting rights.