06 February 2008

U.S. Election Politics 101

For those outside the U.S. who aren't terribly familiar with how presidential elections work here, here's the basic gist:

1. To start with, lots of people declare candidacy. This can happen pretty much anytime, but usually not more than two years in advance of an Election Year. The basic requirements aren't all that high - must be at least 35 and a U.S. citizen born on U.S. soil, etc. - but in practice, wealth is very helpful.

2. Each candidate belongs to a political party. A political party can have lots of candidates. In the spring of Election Year, each party holds internal elections to decide which of its many candidates it wants to support. These elections are called all sorts of things in different states - convention, caucus, primary, etc., but they basically all do the same thing. As a general rule of thumb, the earlier a state holds its primary, the more influence it has on the final outcome.

Every registered member of a party is given a chance to vote at some point during these proceedings (but some of them are lucky special members, and some of them are more equal than others...). In some states, only registered members of the party can vote in the spring elections. In others, there are rules to allow non-registered people to chime in too.

3. Once there's a single candidate left standing in each party, there's another election in late fall of Election Year, which is a contest among all the parties. This is the big main event that gets all the press. Every U.S. citizen can vote in it.

4. Then, after the election, we have something called an "electoral college" which in principle can basically ignore everyone's votes and decide amongst themselves who they really want. In practice, the electors do tend to stick with who the citizens want.

At the moment we're in the midst of #2. Yesterday, in an event called "Super Tuesday," 24 states had elections for one or both of the two main parties.

This year we're electing the replacement for G.W. Bush. As everyone knows, he sucked as a president. He sucked so badly that the next president is virtually guaranteed to be a member of the opposing political party (unless they cheat again (for a third time -.-)). Which means that this year, the primaries of that other party (the Democrats) are the most important part of the show.

So I went out today and did my thing. I've described before who I think would do the best job, and my opinion hasn't changed - my ideal would call for Barack Obama as president and Bill Richardson as vice president (or vice versa, rather - but that's impossible at this point). Will my opinion matter? I don't know. I've voted, but we have those aforementioned lucky special members of the party (called "super delegates") who can basically ignore what everyone else thinks. Which is not unlike having an electoral college in the fall. Which is, at least from my perspective, one of the reasons why so many average citizens feel disenfranchised and irrelevant in the proceedings.

I do understand the original premise of the electoral college. The general populace wasn't supposed to have a voice in the choice of president at all. The general populace is allegedly represented by senators and congressmen. In practice, it hasn't worked out quite that way, and I do wish someone would seriously consider revising the way we have elections (a ranking system of some sort rather than "choose one and only one") - but it doesn't appear to be very high on anyone's priority lists.

Results are here. It looks like Georgia went with Obama. I'm pleased. We'll see where everyone is when the dust settles over the rest of the nation (results are still coming in for the westernmost states at the time of this post).


Janiece said...

Obama took Colorado, too. So we're both "winners." Or something.

kimby said...

Thanks...that does make it a little easier to understand. But it all seems kind of "long" for me. Maybe i am just used to the way we Canadians do it. Not to say that either way is better..in the end...a politician IS a politician, no matter what country they are from.

MWT said...

It's only long because each state has its own schedule on when they do their primaries, and we have 2 main parties and 50 states... Also, this year is going a lot longer than most years, because Hillary won't concede.

How's it done in Canada?