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Elections in the USA – The basics!

Would you like to be able to talk about the presidential elections that are being held in the US? Well, you will need a lot of new vocabulary! In this blog post I’ll show you the basic concepts you need to know:

An election for president of the United States happens every four years on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

What are the requirements to run for office?

You need to be:

  • A natural born citizen.
  • At least 35 years old.
  • A US resident for at least 14 years.

Political parties

Political parties are  organized groups of people with similar ideas or ideology about the function and scope of government.

These are some examples of political parties in Peru.

In the US, there are two main political parties, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. Democrats are donkeys and Republicans are elephants.

The democrat and republican candidates campaign around the country to get more supporters.

You have probably heard people talk about the House of representatives, but what is it?

The United States House of Representatives is one of the two chambers or Houses. The House of Representatives shares equal responsibility for lawmaking with the U.S. Senate. As conceived by the framers of the Constitution, the House was to represent the popular will, and its members were to be directly elected by the people. In contrast, members of the Senate were appointed by the states until the ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment (1913), which mandated the direct election of senators.

Who are the representatives?

They are also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman. Unlike the president, who is elected every 4 years, representatives are chosen every 2 years to serve the people of a specific congressional district. Among other duties, representatives introduce bills and resolutions, offer amendments and serve on committees.

Each state gets as many electors as it has members of Congress (House and Senate). There are currently 538 electors. Each state’s political parties choose their own slate of potential electors.

How is the population represented?

Well, although there are 50 states, there is not one representative for each state. In the US the population of the 50 states is represented proportionally.

For example, California has 53 districts, that means there is a representative for each of them, 53 representatives. The estate of Alaska is large in size but has a small population, therefore it has only one district, which means there’s only one representative for Alaska in the House.

What does a candidate need to win?

To win, a presidential candidate needs to get at least 270 votes.

Let’s compare!

I’m pretty sure elections are done in a different way in your country (because the way the US does it is pretty confusing and I don’t think it happens anywhere else in the world), so here’s an example of a comparison between the US and Peru.

More about electronic voting

There are three types of Electronic voting in USA :

  • The Paper based E vote system has a touchscreen added for the voter’s use. This system will print a hardcopy of the ballot once the voter is done. This ballot needs to be passed out the election officer so it can be counted.
  • The Direct recording electronic system has a touchscreen with digital swipe card buttons which will be used in order to make the choices. All votes are stored in a physical memory device which are sent to a special voting station for their results.
  • Internet voting is the type of vote that is done in remote locations. This type of voting service is not supervised by governmental representatives. The most common devices to used for this type of vote are: Personal computer, Television via Internet also known as i-voting and mobile phone.

Other related words:

absentee ballot (voto en ausencia), ballot, candidate, Election Assistance Commission, electoral college, electronic voting, runoff, paper ballot, paperless voting, poll, voter registration

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Differences between elections in Perú and elections in the USA

Last Sunday I had to go to vote, yes, I had to. Unlike in the US, voting is mandatory in Perú. Not exercising your right to vote results in a fine, which will vary depending on the district the elector is from.

As just a voter, it isn’t much of a difficult choice if you don’t have time or just don’t want to vote since the fine is around 80.00 soles, approximately $23.00 (I am not disencouraging people to go to vote, I was just incredibly busy that day and would have prefered not to go), but if on top of not showing up to vote, you are chosen as a miembro de mesa, the fine is more than twice as much and in this case I was.

What is a  miembro de mesa?

When explaining  this to my Colombian colleague, she said they had the same concept in her country, they are called jurado de votación. Then I started thinking, how do you say miembro de mesa in English? Does that even exist? If voting isn’t mandatory in the U.S, is there such a thing as a chosen citizen to make sure everything runs smoothly on election day?

I become interested in the differences and similarities between elections in the US and Perú, here are my findings:

 

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN THE US AND PERÚ

How the president is chosen The president and vice president are in effect chosen through indirect election by the citizens.

*An indirect election is an election in which voters do not choose between candidates for an office, but elect people who then choose. In this case this body of electors is called The United States Electoral College.

The president and vice president are in effect chosen through direct election by the citizens.
The winner Candidate wins with 270 electoral votes, from the 538 electors that constitute the Electoral College. Candidate that gets more than 50% of the votes wins.
Frequency Congressional and presidential elections take place simultaneously every four years. Congressional and presidential elections take place simultaneously every five years.
Obligatory nature Voting isn’t mandatory.

*About half of all states and U.S. territories allow “no excuse absentee” where no reason is required to request an absentee ballot. Others require a valid reason, such as infirmity or travel, be given before a voter can participate using an absentee ballot.

Voting is mandatory.

The concept of absentee ballot doesn’t exist.

Registration process There is a voter registration process. All U.S. states except North Dakota require that citizens who wish to vote be registered. There isn’t such a thing. Everybody has to go to vote on election day.
Electronic voting system Most states use a combination of electronic and paper technology. Only five states (Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, South Carolina) have paper-free voting and some states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) send all constituents a paper ballot in the mail. Even more states use a combination of electronic and paper at polling places. Only a few districts use electronic voting.
 

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS IN THE US AND PERÚ

Duration Election for the U.S. President must occur on a single day throughout the country.
Elegibility Candidates must be at least 35 years old, a natural born citizen of the country they want to govern.
Runoff  If no candidate receives a required number of votes then there is a runoff between the two candidates with the most votes.

More about electronic voting

There are three types of Electronic voting in USA :

  • The Paper based E vote system has a touchscreen added for the voter’s used. This system will print a hardcopy of the ballot once the voter is done. This ballot needs to be passed out the election officer so it can be counted.
  • The Direct recording electronic system has a touchscreen with digital swipe card buttons which will be used in order to make the choices. All votes are stored in a physical memory device which are sent to a special voting station for their results.
  • Internet voting is the type of vote that is done in remote locations. This type of voting service is not supervised by governmental representatives. The most common devices to used for this type of vote are: Personal computer, Television via Internet also known as i-voting and mobile phone.

What do I wish we would copy from the American election process?

That’s an easy answer:  instant-runoff voting. For the past few years in Perú there have been runoffs and with them an increasing amount of stress and frustration to do it all over again. In a few cities in the US. voters rank the candidates in order of preference rather than voting for a single candidate. If a candidate secures more than half of votes cast, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots assigned to the eliminated candidate are recounted and assigned to those of the remaining candidates who rank next in order of preference on each ballot.

I would love to know what the election process is like in your country. Share in the comments!

New and related words:

absentee ballot (voto en ausencia), ballot, candidate, Election Assistance Commission, electoral college, electronic voting, runoff, paper ballot, paperless voting, poll, voter registration