Presidential Election in the United States of America
This paper deals with several topics connected with the election President in the United States of America but concentrates on history and the method of electing from the pre-election to the General one. After this theoretical part the weak points of this system are to be analyzed by the election of 2000. The ending of the paper gives a short overview about alternative ideas and a shift that is to be expected in the election system combined with the author’s own opinion.
The President has a wide range of executive power as it is written in the Constitution, Article II: "The executive power shall be vested in a President of the USA”. Such a powerful human being requires to be elected carefully and because of that the founding fathers in 1787 invented a special system for electing politicians, especially the President. "Carefully" means to vote in an intelligent way under consideration of all current circumstances to minimize the risk of electing the wrong man to govern America, the most powerful country on earth. In 1800 people were not able to gather all the necessary pieces of information that were required for such an intelligent vote. The postal infrastructure consisted of letters delivered by postmen using horses who needed several weeks to travel from one city to another. The candidates of course were not able to visit every town to introduce themselves. Additionally, wartime hardened the situation of postal delivery.
In the beginning the founding fathers discussed about the mode of election and the length of the executive term as the most important points. After several months of discussing one idea was striking -the electoral college-. A mode of electing that allows state legislatures to choose electors equal in number to the states, representatives and senators combined. These electors than are able to vote for one of the two candidates. - The amount of the number of delegates and electors per state depends on the amount of delegates in the Congress (House of Representative plus the Senate (two Senators per State)). So every state has at least a representation of 3 delegates or electors. Some books don't differentiate between the two terms but for a better understanding I do use the term "electors" just for the part of the election when the primaries are over and the Electoral College sets in. - The candidate receiving a majority becomes President, the runner-up the vice- president. In practice the people of a town who should reflect the meaning of the peoples’ majority at the so-called conventions elected an elector. These electors were familiar with the topic of politics and the candidates and for that they were chosen to elect the best candidate. A system invented more than 200 years ago is still used today and guarantees a democratic and fair vote. After the Electoral College was invented inner party problems occurred: Who shall be the candidate for a party? Two ways of a pre- election system were invented. On the one hand, the so-called caucus-convention-system was the striking one during the earlier centuries, on the other hand primaries in four different ways were held. Both systems aimed to elect the best person to represent the party and of course the United States of America as well. Both systems are about to nominate delegates who shall vote for the presidential candidate in a way reflecting the majority. The delegates are an unusual and unrepresentative of collection of people being interested in politics and are more ideologically. The democratic delegates are more liberal and the republicans are more conservative. This creates a balance between these two parties and makes a fair election possible.
The caucus-convention-system was and still is a pure inner party voting. The word caucus is originated in Boston in the early 18th, when it was the name of a club, where public discussions and elections of candidates for public office were hosted (Caucus or Caucus Club). It was adopted in colonial times for local offices and continued into the 19th century for state and national ones. Because of the already described problems of postal delivery in the earlier days this was the striking one. The members of the party were already familiar with both candidates and politics. Everything starts at the precinct level from February to April. The precinct convention is a meeting to nominate and elect a designed number of precinct delegates to attend the county convention (from April to May), the next higher political level. At this stage a smaller number of delegates are elected to attend the congressional district level (held in June). These delegates also attend the party's state convention were delegates are chosen to take part at the national convention. Because of the caucus-convention-system being a multistage process, no national convention delegates are actually picked at the precinct caucus level. Instead, they are chosen at the congressional district and state levels.
Though the participation is deliberative and thoughtful, the delegates spend a lot of hours in meeting, discussing and electing but the few people can be influenced easily by a minority and they often do not reflect the opinion of the party’s' supporter.
America as the symbol of democracy needed a system which was closer connected to the people but still indirect. That is why the primaries became more important during the last decades. A primary is still an inner party voting but all people can participate in deciding who shall candidate for presidential office. There are four different ways of holding a primary. But in general the process is always the same. Several people of a precinct elect their delegate who is most often bound to a candidate of a party. The delegate gathering most votes in his precinct attends the national convention to vote a candidate. Most often he is bound to this one but regarding to his conscience he is able to vote for another one, too. Free (non bound) delegates are very rare and would not reflect the majority of the people. At the end of the national convention in August one candidate is nominated to represent the party and to candidate for presidential office.
In detail there are four different ways of primaries, which shall be enumerated and explained now. The most common ones are the "closed" and "open" primaries. Furthermore there are the "Blanket" and the "Runoff" primaries. At the "open" primaries the voters choose which party's primary they want to vote in without declaring any party affiliation but for participating at a "closed" one the voter must be a declared party member. Concerning these two ways we have to differentiate between "direct" and "indirect", too. In a direct primary the voters vote for a candidate without electing a delegate. For the normal public office candidacy this way is used most often, but not for presidential office. Here the "indirect" one is preferred. But as described above the delegates are bound and pledged to vote in a way reflecting the voter’s preference. The "Blanket" primary describes a pre-election where the voters has the chance to decide at which party voting he wants to take place but not at both. The "Runoff" primary is a second round contest between the candidates who gathered most of the votes.
But still at this point we have to differentiate again between to ways of counting the votes (not the ballots) -how the candidate gets the delegates' votes. On the one hand a term taken from the sports language "The Winner Takes it All" describes the republican way. The candidate in this case gets all possible delegates, the runner- up, none. The democratic way - the proportional representation - entitles every candidate who reached a percentage above 30% at least one delegate.
There are two candidates under consideration:
Candidate A; Candidate B
A gets 70% of the votes; B 30% - The state (i.e. Iowa) has ten delegates
Winner-Take-It-All: Candidate A gets ten delegates, B zero
Proportional representation: Candidate A gets seven delegates, B three.