Chapter Study Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. The rules of an election affect every participant and aspect of the process; these rules are created by the Constitution, Congress, state legislatures, political parties, and, sometimes, the courts. They vary between states and localities as well as between levels of office.
    2. Inevitably, rules reflect the trade-offs and realities of politics at all levels of the political process and can usually be controversial because they do not fulfill any particular standard or value, but rather a compromise between opposing ideals. 
  2. Who Can Run
    1. The rules for who can run for office differ depending on in what locality a candidate is running and what office a candidate is seeking, but they reflect common values.
      1. Age limits, both locally and federally, reflect the importance of competence in candidates, both intellectually and emotionally, with what are considered more serious positions having higher age restrictions.
      2. Citizenship and residency requirements ensure the value of loyalty, or the desire to have representatives work for their constituents’ interests. Both regulations affect standards such as the right to free speech and deliberation, which can in turn be limited by age and residency limitations.
    2. The importance of party membership, while not codified in U.S. laws, can be necessary to effectively seek office, with independent candidates facing significant challenges at every stage of the process, which can detract from the standard of deliberation and availability of information about each candidate provided to voters.
    3. Term limits, or rules imposed to restrict the number of times a candidate can hold office, also affect different offices, including the presidency and many state legislatures, though the Supreme Court ruled term limits on Congress to be unconstitutional.
  3. When Elections are Held
    1. The timing of elections differs for different offices, reflecting the founder’s goal of every office reflecting a different kind of representation, but federal elections are always held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This differs from other countries, such as Great Britain, which do not have fixed dates of elections for their governments.
    2. General elections usually follow primary elections, in which candidates compete for support from their political party to run in the general election. The dates of primary elections are usually decided by the states, with a large amount of input from the political parties themselves, whose attention on the general election usually leads them to pressure states to hold primaries at specific times during the year. 
    3. The fixed nature of the election process allows candidates to campaign well in advance, which, over time, has created a long campaign and fundraising schedule. Usually disliked by candidates, this permanent campaign can lead to both an increase in transparency and deliberation in the campaign, but can also dissuade good candidates from running, or, for those who do run, from focusing on the position itself rather than the campaign.
  4. Where to Run
    1. Presidential and senatorial candidates have easily determined and unchanging constituent boundaries, while the House and many state offices run and are elected in a single-member districts, or a portion of a state that has been created and is affected state or federal action in order to maintain equality in elections.
    2. The number of districts in each state in House elections is proportional to the state’s population, so changes in the population reflected in the census can change the number of seats in Congress that the state is given. This is called apportionment.
    3. Within states, districts must have nearly equal numbers of residents in order to ensure that each citizen’s vote is counted equally. Earlier in American history, this was not the case, but the Supreme Court has made it required, which led to redistricting, or the careful re-drawing of district lines to create equally populated districts.
      1. Certain requirements have been upheld by the Supreme Court about redistricting, including the importance of making as few deviations from the past district populations as possible, with a marker of 10 percent or less change in population typically accepted, and more being rejected or closely scrutinized.
      2. The Supreme Court has also taken steps to ensure the rights of minority groups within districts, and to keep politicians from diluting minority populations to lessen their effect on district elections, making it illegal to split up minority populations in districts where they made up a politically cohesive majority that differed in voting choice from the district minority. This has been further enforced by the Voting Rights Act of 1982.
      3. Gerrymandering, or the deliberate manipulation of district boundaries toward a political purpose, can serve to maximize the numbers of voters who are racial minorities, who would support an incumbent, or who would support a specific political party.  The Supreme Court has been less active in rejecting gerrymanders after scrutiny, if a state can defend its redistricting on terms not related to race.
    4. Both reapportionment and redistricting constrain political candidates, who have limited ability to control who their constituents are, especially since redistricting generally occurs once every ten years. The standards of free choice and deliberation can be affected by processes such as gerrymandering, even though redistricted areas can sometimes help citizens that feel better represented than before.
  5. Who Can Vote
    1. Historically, the right to vote has changed many times, usually accompanied by a Constitutional amendment. Currently, two restrictions remain nationally—that voters are at least 18 years old and that they are American citizens—while most states restrict voting rights on the basis of criminal status and mental illness.
    2. In the U.S., voting in not required, and in order to vote, eligible citizens must register to vote, usually in a certain amount of time prior to elections. Some states offer election-day registration, which seems to increase the overall number of voters who participate in elections.
    3. Primary elections in states vary between different types that do and do not allow unregistered members of political parties to vote,
      1. One form, the blanket primary, which consists of a single ballot with candidates of both parties listed, has been invalidated by the Supreme Court in 2000, who argued that it was in violation of the First Amendment right of association, as a party’s nominee would in part be chosen by those who did not support, and in many cases opposed, the party.
      2. The type of primary election also affects how candidates campaign initiallywhether they need to garner votes from unaffiliated, and usually more moderate or centrist, voters, or whether they should focus on maintaining the party line.
    4. These requirements affect campaign strategy by limiting the number of citizens who vote and cause campaigns to spend time mobilizing eligible voters to register and then participate. Further voting reform is generally resisted because of the fear of voter turnout supportive of the opposite party. Goals of voter equality and participation, while strived for, are limited by other concerns and political goals. 
  6. Who Wins
    1. While it varies in other countries, the method of determining the winner of an election in the U.S. is almost always the person with the most votes, or plurality rule, or in some cases majority rule in which a series of elections produces an individual with the majority of votes.
      1. The system of plurality rule usually leads, as explained by Duverger’s Law, to a two-party system in which unaffiliated or differently affiliated candidates receive less attention and achieve much less success. This increases the pressure on candidates and voters to choose a party, and can be seen as limiting free choice in elections
      2. The winner-take-all system also affects the choice of candidates as to where to campaign during an election, as some districts or states might be seen as strongholds of one party or the other. “Battleground states,” where the result is more contentious, might see a higher level of attention, and so more chances for deliberation.
    2. The winner-take-all process is contrasted to a system where representation is split between more than one winner by number of votes—or proportional representation—which many believe would alleviate a number of the problems in America. Proportional representation, however, can lead to the rise of coalitions, or allied groups of parties, in government that can be less representative than parties, and, because they are more fragile, can cause a significantly less stable government.