Types of Elections
• The general election is a regularly
scheduled election held in even-numbered
years on the Tuesday after the first Monday
• A special election is held at the state or
local level when voters must decide an issue
before the next general election or when
vacancies occur by reason of death or
Types of Ballots
• Since 1888, all states have used the Australian
ballot – a secret ballot that is prepared,
distributed, and counted by government officials
at public expense.
▫ Most states use the party-column ballot which
lists all of a party’s candidates in a single column
under the party label.
▫ Other states use the office-block ballot, which
lists together all of the candidates for each office.
Conducting Elections & Counting Votes
• All local government units, such as cities, are
divided into smaller voting districts, or
• An election board supervises the polling place
and the voting process in each precinct.
• Representatives from each party, called poll
watchers, are allowed into each polling place to
make sure that the election is being run fairly
and to avoid fraud.
Presidential Elections and the Electoral
• When citizens vote for president and vice president, they
are voting for electors who will cast their ballot in the
• The electors are selected during each presidential
election year by the states’ political parties.
• Each state has as many electoral votes as it has U.S.
senators and representatives. There are three electors
from the District of Columbia.
• The candidate who receives the largest popular vote in a
state is credited with all of that state’s electoral votes (a
The Electoral College, cont.
• In December, after the
general election, electors
meet in their state capitals to
cast their votes for president
and vice president.
• A candidate must receive
more than half of the 538
electoral votes available.
Thus, a candidate needs 270
votes to win.
The Electoral College, cont.
• If no presidential candidate gets an electoral
college majority (which has happened twice – in
1800 and 1824), then the House of
Representatives votes, with each state
delegation casting only a single vote.
• If no candidate for vice president gets a majority
of electoral votes, the vice president is chosen
by the Senate, with each senator casting one
Party Control Over Nominations
• Beginning in 1800, members of Congress who
belonged to the two parties held caucuses to
nominate candidates for president and vice
• The caucus system collapsed in 1824; it was
widely seen as undemocratic.
The Party Nominating Convention
• In 1832, both parties settled on a new method of
choosing candidates for president and vice
president - the national nominating convention.
• Those who attended the convention were called
delegates, and they were chosen to represent the
people of a particular geographic area.
• Delegates were typically appointed by local party
officials, who gained their positions in ways that
were less than democratic.
• Corruption in nominating conventions led reformers
to call for a new way to choose candidates – the
• An election in which voters go to the polls to decide
among candidates who seek the nomination of their
• In a direct primary, voters cast their ballots directly
• In an indirect primary, voters choose delegates,
who in turn choose the candidates.
• The major parties use indirect primaries to elect
delegates to the national nominating conventions
that choose candidates for president and vice-
Open & Closed Primaries
• Closed primary – only party members can vote
to choose that party’s candidates, and they may
only vote in the primary of their own party.
• Open primary – voters can vote for a party’s
candidates regardless of whether they belong to
• Most of the states hold presidential primaries,
beginning early in the election year.
• In some states, delegates are chosen through a
caucus/convention system; other states use a
combination of primaries and caucuses.
• Iowa is an early caucus state, while New
Hampshire traditionally holds the first primary.
Primaries & The Rush to be First
• In 1988, a group of southern states created a
“Super Tuesday” by holding their primaries on the
same day in early March.
• The practice of “front-loading” primaries has
gained momentum over the last decade.
• The rush to be first was particularly notable in the
year or so preceding the 2008 presidential
• By 2007, about half the states had moved their
primaries to earlier dates. Many states opted for
February 5th, or “Super-Super Tuesday” – as the
date for their primaries.
• An alternative to the primary system, the caucus is a
party convention held at the local level that elects
delegates to conventions at the county or
congressional district level.
• These mid-level conventions then choose the
delegates to the state convention, which finally
elects the delegates to the national party
• Twelve states choose national convention delegates
through caucuses; four states use caucuses to
allocate some of the national convention delegates
and use primaries to allocate the rest.
National Party Conventions
• National conventions, held in late summer, are
unique in Western democracies.
• Delegates adopt the party’s platform and nominate
the presidential and vice-presidential candidates.
• At one time, the conventions were often giant free-
for-alls. As more states opted to hold presidential
primaries, however, the drama of national
• Today, convention activities are highly staged
Responsibilities of the Campaign Staff
• Raise funds
• Get media coverage
• Produce and pay for political ads
• Schedule the candidate’s time effectively with
constituent groups and potential supporters
• Convey the candidate’s position on the issues
• Conduct research on the opposing candidates
• Get the voters to go to the polls
The Professional Campaign
• With the rise of candidate-centered campaigns,
the role of the political party in managing
campaigns has declined.
• Professional political consultants now manage
nearly all aspects of a presidential candidate’s
• Political consultants generally specialize in a
particular area of the campaign, such as
researching the opposition, conducting polls, or
The Professional Campaign
• At least half of the budget for a major political
campaign is consumed by television advertising.
Media consultants are pivotal members of the
• In recent years, the Internet has become a political
playing field that is in some ways more important
than any other.
• Internet fundraising grew out of an earlier technique,
the direct mail campaign. Now, email messages can
be sent at almost zero cost.
Fund-raising on the Internet
• Internet fund-raising grew out of an earlier
technique, the direct mail campaign.
• The cost of direct mailing, though, is well over a
dollar, whereas the cost of each email message is
• In the 2004 presidential campaign, Howard Dean
focused on collecting donations over the Internet.
• His campaign had raised about $50 million by the
time he ceded the nomination to John Kerry.
Fund-raising on the Internet, cont.
• Barack Obama took Internet fundraising to a new
level during his 2008 presidential campaign.
• The Obama campaign recruited as many supporters
as possible to act as fundraisers, soliciting
contributions from friends and neighbors.
• In August 2008, the Obama campaign set a record,
raising $66 million, the most ever raised in one
month by a presidential campaign.
• Most of the 2.5 million people who donated to
Obama’s campaign had been contacted through the
• In 2004, President Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl
Rove, pioneered a technique known as
microtargeting, which involved collecting as much
information as possible about voters in a giant
database and then filtering out various groups for
• This technique is entirely Web-based and uses
information about people’s online behavior to tailor
the advertisements that they see.
• This technique raises privacy concerns, and both
Congress and the Federal Trade Commission have
held hearings on the practice.
Support for Local Organizing
• As with fund-raising, Obama took Web-based
organizing to a new level – his campaign used
existing sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
• On YouTube, Obama’s videos were viewed 50
million times, compared with McCain’s 4 million.
• Obama’s own Web site, My.BarackObama.com,
eventually racked up over a million members.
The Federal Election Campaign Act
• The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) was
passed by Congress in 1971 in an effort to halt
and prevent abuses in the ways that political
campaigns were financed.
• The act restricted the amount that could be
spent on mass media advertising, including TV.
• The act also limited the amount that candidates
and their families could contribute to their own
campaigns and required disclosure of all
contributions and expenditures of more than
FECA Amendments in 1974
• Amendments that were passed in 1974 did the
▫ Created the Federal Election Commission (FEC)
▫ Provided public financing for presidential primaries
and general elections
▫ Limited presidential campaign spending
▫ Required disclosure of contributors and how funds
▫ Limited contributions by individuals and groups
Buckley v. Valeo
• In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the Supreme Court
declared unconstitutional a provision of the 1971
act that limited the amount that each individual
could spend on his or her own campaign.
• The Court held that this is protected by the First
Amendment – “a candidate … has a First
Amendment right to engage in the discussion of
public issues and vigorously and tirelessly to
advocate his own election.”
The Rise of PACs
• The FECA allows corporations, labor unions,
and special interest groups to set up national
political action committees (PACs) to raise
money for candidates.
• PACs can contribute up to $5000 per candidate
in each election, but there is no limit on the
amount of PAC contributions during an election
Skirting the Campaign-Finance Rules
• Contributions to political parties were called soft
money – one of the loopholes in the federal laws.
• The FECA and its amendments did not prohibit
individuals or corporations from making
contributions to political parties.
• Contributors could make donations to the national
parties to cover the costs of party activities such as
registering voters, printing brochures, advertising,
and holding fund-raising events.
• Soft dollars became the main source of campaign
money in the 2000 presidential race.
Skirting the Campaign-Finance Rules,
• Another loophole in the federal laws was that
they did not prohibit corporations, labor unions,
or special interest groups from making
independent expenditures – expenditures for
activities that are not coordinated with those of a
candidate or political party.
• These groups could wage their own “issue”
campaigns, as long as they did not say to vote
for a particular candidate.
The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act
of 2002 • The new law banned the contributions to
national political parties known as soft money.
• It also regulated campaign ads paid for by
interest groups and prohibited any issue
advocacy commercials within thirty days of a
primary election or sixty days of a general
• The 2002 act set the amount that an individual
can contribute to a federal candidate at $2,000
and the amount that an individual can give to all
federal candidates at $95,000 over a two-year
• Individual contributions to state and local parties
cannot exceed $10,000 per year, per individual.
Constitutional Challenges to the 2002
• In December 2003, the Supreme Court upheld
nearly all clauses of the act in McConnell v.
Federal Election Commission.
• In 2007, however, the Court held that restricting
all TV ads paid for by corporate or union
treasuries during a particular timeframe
amounted to censorship of political speech.
Independent Expenditures After 2002
• A major attempt to exploit loopholes in the 2002 act was
the establishment of 527 independent committees.
• During the 2004 election cycles, 527 committees spent
about $612 million to “advocate positions.”
• By 2008, 527 committees began to decline in relative
importance due to the creation of the 501(c)4
▫ A 501(c)4 could, according to some lawyers, make limited
contributions directly to campaigns and could conceal the
identity of its donors.
▫ A ruling on the legality of this technique has yet to be
The 2000 Presidential Elections
• In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by 540,000 votes – but on
election night, the outcome in Florida was deemed “too close to
• There was a great deal of controversy over the types of ballots
used, and some of the counties in Florida began to recount ballots
• The issue that ultimately came before the US Supreme Court was
whether manual recounts of some ballots and not others violate the
Constitution’s equal protection clause.
Here, Florida officials attempted to see if
the “chads” in the voting punch cards had
been clearly punched or not.
The 2004 Presidential Elections
• The 2004 presidential election was another
close race, with President Bush defeating
Democratic challenger John Kerry by just 35
• In contrast to the situation in 2000, though,
Bush won the popular vote in 2004 by a 2.5
percentage point margin.
• The elections were decided by the closely contested vote in
Ohio, which had early on been viewed as a battleground state –
a state where voters were not clearly leaning toward either major
candidate leading up to the elections.
The 2008 Presidential Elections
• At times during the campaign, the presidential
contest appeared to be close – but the
financial panic that struck on September 15
tipped the elections decisively in Obama’s
• Obama’s popular vote margin over John
McCain was about 7.2 percentage points,
nearly a 10 point swing to the Democrats from
the elections of 2004.
• With approximately 52.9% of the popular vote,
Obama was the first Democrat to win an
absolute majority (over 50%) of the popular
vote since Jimmy Carter did so in 1976.
• While the results of the 2008 election did not constitute a landslide, if
the voters in 2012 believe that Obama’s presidency has been a
success, he may win a true landslide that year, as Reagan did in
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