US Presidential Election Actually 50+ Separate Votes

Election Day is held on the first Tuesday in November in the United States.  In each of the 50 states, and in the District of Columbia, there are political offices to fill, ballot questions to resolve, and every four years, the choice of whom to send to the White House.

The United States Constitution is filled with rights and protections for citizens.  But as Georgetown University professor Mark Rom points out, voting is not necessarily one of them.

"One would think that the right to vote is just as much a central right of citizenship as the ability to speak freely, or to worship freely, to petition the government, and so forth. But, it is not," said Rom.  "Voting requirements are typically established by the states. And, the states, more or less, can use their own standards."

The minimum voting age of 18 is set by U.S. federal law.  But Rom says otherwise, there is very little uniformity

"There is a patchwork of 50 different states, with 50 different state laws about the times for voting, the processes for registering to vote, the places where you can vote, how you can vote by absentee ballot.  All those details of the elections are established by state law, not by federal law," Rom added.

The absentee ballots that Rom refers to are used by people who are away from home on Election Day - in the military, for instance, or traveling, or away at school.

In recent years, something called "early voting" has also developed. Some two-thirds of the states now allow people to cast their ballots as much as a month or more before the official Election Day in November.

A number of states have now passed laws requiring voters to produce specific photo IDs at their polling place to prove their identities.  Advocates of these laws say they are necessary to prevent fraud.  Opponents say such fraud is too statistically small to be a problem, and charge the laws are meant suppress voting.

And there's also another way that a U.S. presidential election is really 50 separate contests - according to the Constitution, people voting for president are actually selecting 538 people called "electors" on a state-by-state basis.  And it's these people who officially determine who becomes president.

"The most important number is 270," says George Mason University professor Dennis Johnson.  "And that is the number of electors that will get you over the top. And, any combination of states that has 270, that is the magic number that you are really looking for."

Johnson says the Electoral College is why candidates spend most of their time in a handful of so-called “battleground” states -- the ones they believe will give them that winning total of 270 electoral votes.

Jeffrey Young

Jeffrey Young came to the “Corruption” beat after years of doing news analysis, primarily on global strategic issues such as nuclear proliferation.  During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include VOA-TV, where he created the “How America Works” and “How America Elects” series, and the “Focus” news analysis unit.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs