Election Day in America is held on different days. The following is an overview of the dates for federal and local elections.
This covers the President, Vice President and members of Congress (House of Representatives and the Senate).
The day is the Tuesday following the first Monday in the month of November. This takes place every four years on even numbered years. Based on this calculation, the earliest period would be November 2 and the latest would be the 8th. The President and Vice President are elected every four years. They are sworn in on January 20.
Members of Congress are elected every two years. The members of the Senate have a six year term. During Election Day in America though, the Senators’ terms are spread out so that only a third are up for grabs in the general election.
Because Congressmen have a shorter term, midterm elections are held. The term is derived from the fact that it takes place midway during the tenure of the sitting President.
Most local seats are also contested during the same period. However some states and counties hold it at different periods or odd numbered years. Depending on the state, early voting may or may not be allowed. Some states also declare it a civic holiday.
The law permitting states to choose electors was in place as far back as 1792. According to the law then, it had to be 34 days prior to the first Wednesday on December. The first Wednesday was the convention date of the electors for the President and Vice President.
There are numerous theories as to why the first Tuesday was selected as the Election Day in America. One is that other dates would run into conflict with the 34 day rule.
Another reason is that it was chosen because Wednesday was market day. A lot of the farmers would be busy, so Tuesday was selected. Another reason given for selecting just one date was to give the states equal voting power. In the previous arrangement, the states that held elections later would wield more influence on the outcome.
The Electoral College
While the citizens vote for the President and Vice President, it is the Electoral College that actually determines the winner. The Electoral College are composed of electors. These are chosen (through legislation) by the state before Election Day in America. There are different numbers of electors per state. Come voting time, it is this group that decides who becomes President and Vice President.
The candidate that gets 270 electoral votes will win. The public still votes for the President and Vice President, but it is the votes in the College that counts. A candidate can win the popular / public vote but without the Electoral vote, that individual cannot be President.
If there is no majority vote, the House of Representatives will conduct a special session. The state delegation will cast their ballot en bloc. The candidate with 26 or more votes will become the President.
Although there have been some suggestions for reforms in the current system, Election Day in America is still held and conducted in this manner. Unless the change is approved by Congress, it will continue to be the process used.