Election Process

Learn about the presidential election process, including the electoral college, caucuses and primaries.

Electoral College

The Electoral College is the process used to elect the U.S President and Vice President. The process serves as a compromise between election of the President by a vote in Congress and election of the President by a popular vote of qualified citizens. The candidate with at least 270 electoral votes wins a presidential election.   

The process begins with the selection of the electors, followed by the meeting of the electors to vote for President and Vice President, and finally the counting of the electoral votes by Congress.  

Number of Electors

Each state's number of electors is equal to the number of its U.S. Senators plus the number of its U.S. Representatives. In 48 states, when a candidate receives the majority of votes, he or she receives all of a state's electoral votes. Two states, Maine and Nebraska, can split their electoral votes among the candidates. It is possible for a candidate to receive the majority of the popular vote but not of the electoral vote and lose a presidential election.

The Office of the Federal Register coordinates the functions of the Electoral College on behalf of the Archivist of the United States, the States, the Congress, and the American people. For more information, contact them by e-mail at electoral.college@nara.gov or by phone at 1-202-741-6030.

How to Change the Electoral College

Because the Electoral College process is part of the U.S. Constitution, it would be necessary to pass a Constitutional amendment to change this system. For more information, contact your U.S. Senator or your U.S. Representative.

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Presidential Election Process

The election process begins with the primary elections, during which political parties each select a nominee to unite behind; the nominee in turn selects a Vice Presidential running mate. The candidates then face off in the general election, usually participating in debates and campaigns across the country to explain their views and plans to the voters.

An election occurs every four years. Unlike other political elections, presidential elections use the Electoral College. The President and the Vice President are the only two nationally elected officials in the United States. To win election, a candidate must receive a majority of electoral votes, or if no candidate receives a majority, the House of Representatives and Senate choose the President and Vice President.

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Presidential Primaries and Caucuses

An election for President of the United States occurs every four years. Before the election, most candidates for President go through a series of state primaries and caucuses.

  • State primaries occur through a secret ballot. There are two types of primaries: closed and open. During a closed primary, you can vote only for a candidate belonging to the same political party as you. During an open primary, you can vote for a candidate of any political party.
  • Caucuses are meetings where members of political parties divide themselves into groups according to the candidate they support, with undecided voters forming into a group of their own. Each group then gives speeches supporting a candidate and tries to persuade others to join their group. At the end of the caucus, party organizers count the voters in each candidate's group and calculate how many delegates each candidate has won.

When the primaries and caucuses are over, most political parties hold a national convention where the winning candidate receives a nomination.

For information about your state's presidential primary or caucus, contact your state election office.

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