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The Different Types of Elections

When most people think of an election they think of going to vote for President.. Seems simple enough, yes? Not exactly. While voting itself is simple, there are many different elections happening all the time and different ways they can impact your life. There are of course the federal elections that include the president and vice president, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. However, many different levels of elections happen in the United States and all of them are elections you can participate in to become involved in your close community as well as your national one. In this article seven different elections will be explained and give you a basic idea of all the ways one can participate in each.

by Ella M., TeenWell Ambassador

The most known election is on the federal level where the president, the senate, and the house of representatives are voted into office. 

The Presidential election happens every four years where candidates are elected by the people into the position of head of state, head of government, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Their job is responsible for the enforcement of the laws created by Congress. In regards to the election process there is a misunderstanding with the general assumption that when voting the president is chosen directly by the people. This is not entirely true because the group that actually officially casts ballots for president is the Electoral College. This is a group consisting of 538 electors that represent each state and the District of Columbia.. Each state gets a certain number of electors depending on the population of that state. Each candidate’s party chooses his or her own group of electors which are then voted on by you. You’ve probably seen on your ballot the presidential candidate’s name and a bunch of names directly below it. Those are the candidate’s electors. The majority of states have a “winner-take-all” system where the party that wins the popular vote gains those electoral votes. The electors then vote for their party’s chosen candidate and that is how the presidential election is officially decided. So, while you are not directly voting for the president, your vote  determines the electors who will vote for your chosen presidential  candidate.

The next federal elections to discuss are the congressional elections. These elections happen every two years. When these elections are held in the two years between the presidential elections, they are commonly called midterms. In this election you are voting for the legislative representatives, divided into two chambers, who will make and pass federal laws. Because Congress is separated into two parts, the House of Representatives and the Senate, you could possibly be voting for two people. However, the major difference between them is that the House of Representatives are re-elected every two years. In the case of the Senate, each senator serves a six-year term and only one-third of them are elected in each midterm. The  number of representatives for each state depends on the population of the state, but each representative  only represents one congressional district. There are only two senators per state and they both represent the entire state in Congress. There are many resources to help you  find who your representatives are and when they are running. And unlike the presidential elections the candidates are voted in by popular vote. These processes are probably somewhat familiar to you but the complexities of the election process are sometimes a lot to process. There are always more ways to find more information about each election and why they occur the way they do. 

Then we also have elections that are at the state level. Within these elections you could vote for a variety of different people who are all state governmental officers. While each state has many different elected state officials, all of them include a governor who acts as the head of the executive branch of the state government. The governor implements the laws of the state and serves as the commander-in-chief of the state’s military force. This man or woman is directly elected by the people in each state. In some states there are other positions directly elected within the executive branch, but each state has its own power to organize its government in any way it chooses. In regards to the legislative branch, every state has elected representatives who create state laws (which can be approved or rejected by the governor’s veto). The legislative branch for almost all states is separated into two groups: the Senate, who usually serve four years, and the House of Representatives, who usually serve two years. In some states, the length of terms for these groups varies and the House may also be called a different name (such as State Assembly).And Nebraska is the only state with only one legislative group. You can find your specific representatives online in order to research and decide who to vote for. While these elections are not as big as federal elections, they are just as important because the laws passed by your state can sometimes affect your life even more than the national laws.

The next elections would be at the local level. This level can be divided into two tiers: counties and municipalities (cities/towns). Depending on the state, it can allow for voting on other offices such as the school boards or city attorneys. This level of government allows you to be “closer to the action” and allows for easier interaction because of their offices being close in vicinity. 

  • A county government is one that controls a larger geographical area than cities or towns, and is created by the state to help in enforcing laws and act as an administrative division of  the state. These systems can show in different forms but the most common is the commission system, where there are multiple people elected and serve as a governing body who perform all legislative and executive jobs. The election periods vary depending on the state and can be found by searching your specific county. 
  • The other form of local election is municipal or within a city/town. Usually the government operates under the mayor-council or council-manager system. With the mayor-council system, voters directly elect the mayor and the council members. Within this system the mayor-council acts similarly to the federal government, where the mayor acts as the executive branch and the council operates as the legislative branch. In a council-manager system, the council members are voted on by the people, but depending on the state the manager can also be voted on or chosen by the council. The manager acts as the administrator while the council sets policy and makes the city budget. While the system may vary depending on the state you live in, the authority of the local government is always subject to the laws and rules of the state government. However, this does not diminish the importance of the local government as they provide a closer outlet to voice your issues and concerns within your closer community, making it easier for change to occur within your life. 

There are also elections that you may not have ever heard of before, some of which apply to every level of government and some which do not. 

  • For example, at many levels the partisan primary elections serve as a way to vote on the nominees for specific political parties for any election, whether it be presidential or local. While not as common, there are nonpartisan primary elections where voters choose the finalists no matter their political party. Both ways eventually decide the candidates who will run in general elections that decide the official person to take that office within a government.
  • Similar to, but different from primary elections would be caucuses. Caucuses are events held at a certain time where voters can participate in debating each candidate’s policies and then openly vote for a candidate within a large group. During these times candidates can be eliminated and the voters are able to realign with a remaining candidate. This type of election is different from the rest because it lacks the privacy and restriction of changing your decision once you vote.

All these elections vary in importance depending on if your state, country, city/town, etc,. implements them into their government. There are always ways to find out what kind of elections are happening around you and for you to decide if you want to participate in them. Each however, serves a purpose and is important to our governmental system. 

In conclusion, while there are many elections you can take part in and they all seem to be happening at different times, different places, and with different purposes. Each has a place in the government and therefore should be explored and researched. These different levels allow you as an individual and a citizen of the United States to participate in your government and help create a country you believe it should be. It’s recommended that you further research all these subjects and learn your government representatives and opportunities to vote. That way you can effect change within your city, county, state, and country.

  • Federal Election Commission. This website can provide you with various details about the federal elections of any year. They can also help you find who the candidates are in your specific area, which allows you to then dig deeper into your choices  of who you vote for. https://www.fec.gov/
  • National Archives. This website gives you more details on exactly how the electoral college works. It helpsclear any confusion on how the president and vice-president are elected,  the importance of your vote, and how your vote affects the process.  . https://www.archives.gov/electoral-college/about
  • Official USA Government. At this website you can navigate the many different types of elections and find your representatives and any details you need further explanation on. You can also use this website to find further information on your local government and elections.