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Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the stages in the election process
  • Compare the primary and caucus systems
  • Summarize how primary election returns lead to the nomination of the party candidates

Elections offer American voters the opportunity to participate in their government with little investment of time or personal effort. Yet voters should make decisions carefully. The electoral system allows them the chance to pick party nominees as well as office-holders, although not every citizen will participate in every step. The presidential election is often criticized as a choice between two evils, yet citizens can play a prominent part in every stage of the race and influence who the final candidates actually are.

Deciding to run

Running for office can be as easy as collecting one hundred signatures on a city election form or paying a registration fee of several thousand dollars to run for governor of a state. However, a potential candidate still needs to meet state-specific requirements covering length of residency, voting status, and age. Potential candidates must also consider competitors, family obligations, and the likelihood of drawing financial backing. His or her spouse, children, work history, health, financial history, and business dealings also become part of the media’s focus, along with many other personal details about the past. Candidates for office are slightly more diverse than the representatives serving in legislative and executive bodies, but the realities of elections drive many eligible and desirable candidates away from running.

Jennifer L. Lawless. 2012. Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Despite these problems, most elections will have at least one candidate per party on the ballot. In states or districts where one party holds a supermajority, such as Georgia, candidates from the other party may be discouraged from running because they don’t think they have a chance to win.

“Partisan Composition of State Houses,” http://ballotpedia.org/Partisan_composition_of_state_houses (November 4, 2015); Zach Holden. 20 November 2014. “No Contest: 36 Percent of 2014 State Legislative Races Offered No Choice,” https://www.followthemoney.org/research/blog/no-contest-36-percent-of-2014-state-legislative-races-offer-no-choice-blog/.
Candidates are likely to be moving up from prior elected office or are professionals, like lawyers, who can take time away from work to campaign and serve in office.
“Legislators’ Occupations in All States,” http://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/legislator-occupations-national-data.aspx (November 3, 2015).

When candidates run for office, they are most likely to choose local or state office first. For women, studies have shown that family obligations rather than desire or ambition account for this choice. Further, women are more likely than men to wait until their children are older before entering politics, and women say that they struggle to balance campaigning and their workload with parenthood.

Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox. 2010. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office . Revised Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Because higher office is often attained only after service in lower office, there are repercussions to women waiting so long. If they do decide to run for the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate, they are often older, and fewer in number, than their male colleagues ( [link] ). As of 2015, only 24.4 percent of state legislators and 20 percent of U.S. Congress members are women.
“Women in State Legislatures for 2015,” 4 September 2015. http://www.ncsl.org/legislators-staff/legislators/womens-legislative-network/women-in-state-legislatures-for-2015.aspx.
The number of women in executive office is often lower as well. It is thus no surprise that 80 percent of members of Congress are male, 90 percent have at least a bachelor’s degree, and their average age is sixty.
Philip Bump, “The New Congress is 80 Percent White, 80 Percent Male and 92 Percent Christian,” Washington Post , 5 January 2015.

Questions & Answers

In which areas do you think peoples rights and liberties are at risk of government intrusion?
camille Reply
whenever......new government
Marjan Reply
clearly,who was meant to be in charge of this new government?
Marjan
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David Reply
Anything on the Mayflower Compact
deborah Reply
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Kalu
Meaning
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Benedict Reply
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Jewles Reply
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Joni Reply
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Ich Reply
what is liberty
Luna Reply
You feel free and you decide and do and achieve the right for you
Ich
was the Bill of rights a necessary addtion to the constitution?
noor Reply
So, if I'm clear a member of the Congress CANNOT live in the state they represent?
Jeremy Reply
what is government
Seth Reply
why is today's government so corrupt?
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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