Countries automatically register eligible voters

United States

Frequently asked questions

What role do the political parties play in the US election campaign? And what are the primaries? You can find answers to these and other frequently asked questions in our FAQ.

What are area codes?

In Primaries the two parties decide with which candidate (s) they want to go into the presidential election campaign. This process is not anchored in the Constitution and has evolved and changed over time. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the leadership of the party made this selection behind closed doors. It was not until the 1930s that this selection process opened up and became more democratic. Today, candidates are selected using two different voting procedures: some states have 'primaries' and others have 'caucuse'. In these votes, the candidates compete for the party's delegates in the respective state, who then nominate the presidential candidate at the party's nomination convention. The 'primaries' are almost like a normal election. Every citizen of a federal state who is entitled to vote and who has committed himself to a party when registering for the election may vote in a secret ballot in the selection of candidates. Some states even have open 'primaries', i.e. you can also vote for the other party. 'Caucuse', on the other hand, are local party assemblies at the district level, at which only members of the respective party who are registered for election can cast their vote, e.g. by showing their hands.

In connection with the system of primaries, control of the party leadership is discussed in particular. In the 20th century, their influence here steadily declined in favor of the party base. Only the Democrats have tried to maintain a certain amount of control over the super delegates. Super delegates are used by the party to represent the interests of the party organization in the nomination process. Most of these are former presidents or current senators and governors who, unlike the delegates elected in the primary elections, are not tied to any candidate. The super delegates made up 15 percent of the delegates in this election. In the pre-election campaign, the later defeated candidate Bernie Sanders criticized the role of these superdelegates, the vast majority of whom had spoken out in favor of Hillary Clinton very early on and thus may have had a significant impact on the primaries. At their nomination party conference at the end of July, the Democrats then set up a commission in response to Sander's criticism, which is supposed to work out reform proposals for the delegate system after the election. The Republican Party has no super-delegates, here the party base has a greater influence in the selection process. Donald Trump was able to use this open system to win the Republican Party nomination despite opposition from the party leadership.

How does voter registration work?

In contrast to Germany, in the USA you have to register yourself in a voter register. Automatic registration based on data from the registration offices as in Germany does not exist in the USA. Any American over the age of 18 and resident in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia is eligible to vote. The residents of the territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, etc.) (like the residents of D.C. before the 23rd constitutional amendment) do not have the right to vote. Voter registration procedures vary considerably between states. Often the Voter registration cited as a cause of the low turnout in the US. In the last presidential election in 2012, 24 percent of eligible voters did not register for the election, around 51 million US citizens. The reasons for this are different: some do not want to vote, others do not know how to register, others have missed any deadlines. In general, you can register with all government agencies at a specified time before the elections. In the mid-1990s, Congress launched a number of initiatives to increase voter turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 compels states to allow registration at vehicle registration offices, schools, libraries, or by mail. Registration on election day should also be made possible. In 2015, Oregon became the first state to introduce automatic voter registration when applying for a driver's license or other form of official ID. In addition, the political parties regularly organize voter registration initiatives. More and more countries are also starting to register online. There are currently 37 federal states. At the same time, however, some states are repeatedly trying to complicate the voter registration process. Only certain ID cards are allowed for registration. For example, in some states, citizens can register with the National Rifle Association membership card, but not with their student ID. In August 2016, federal courts invalidated parts or all of the voter ID laws in five cases. Ohio, Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and North Dakota will have to establish alternative procedures by the November 2016 election because the invalidated procedures would have made voter registration difficult for minorities and other groups.

What is the Electoral College?

In the USA, the president is not elected directly by the people, but indirectly through electors who are in the Electoral College are summarized. Each state receives a certain number of electors. The electors are distributed among the federal states according to a certain key. Each state receives as many electors as the state has MPs in the House of Representatives and Senators. The 23rd Amendment also granted the District of Columbia (D.C.), in which the capital Washington is located, three electors, even though D.C. has no MPs in Congress. With the system of electors, the constitutional fathers wanted to make the president independent of the influence of the people, but at the same time give him his own basis of legitimation vis-à-vis Congress through elections. In the strict sense of the word, the voters do not vote for the president, but for the electors of the respective party in their own state. With the exception of Nebraska and Maine, voting is based on the 'winner-takes-all' principle, i.e. the candidate with the most votes gets all the electoral votes in the state. The presidential election is won by the candidate who receives at least 270 of the 538 votes in the Electoral College. If no candidate gets such a majority, the House of Representatives will choose the president. In US history, the Electoral College system has resulted in a candidate winning elections only four times despite not having the most total votes. The last time this happened was in 2000 in the Al Gore vs. George W. Bush election. Bush narrowly prevailed against Gore with 271 electoral votes, although his 266 electoral representatives represented around half a million more votes.

What are swing states / battleground states?

As a ,swing-, or 'Battleground state' means a state in the USA in which no candidate or no party has sufficient support or the regular voter base to win the electoral vote in the state. The election campaign activities are also concentrated on these states because it makes no sense for the candidates or parties to invest resources in states that they will surely win or lose (safe states). In the current election campaign, the following states are considered swing states because neither of the two candidates has a clear majority of votes there: Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio. After Trump has been nominated for the Republican Party, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan may also have to be viewed as swing states, because Trump did above-average in the primaries in these traditionally democratic states. In addition to the almost traditional 'swing' or 'battleground states', demographic changes in society can also result in new states slipping into this category or becoming the "safe state" for one of the two political camps.

What power does the president have?

The president in the US is often characterized as the most powerful man in the world. This is certainly also due to the fact that the office of president bundles various functions: the president is the highest representative in the country, head of government and supreme commander of the armed forces. However, the constitutional fathers established a system of 'checks and balances' that forced the various political powers to work together. Although the executive, legislative and judicial branches are formally separated from one another in the USA, they share many competencies, so that one institution cannot act without or against the other. Political scientists speak of an entanglement of power here. The President himself cannot, for example, pass laws or introduce bills into Congress; here he is dependent on the cooperation of the legislature, i.e. the House of Representatives and the Senate. On the other hand, he can veto laws, which in turn can be overruled by a 2/3 majority in Congress. The President also depends on the support of part of Congress, the Senate, in the composition of his cabinet and the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court. In contrast to the parliamentary system as we have it in Germany, for example, the president in a presidential democratic system like the USA is more independent of political majorities in the legislature.

The increasing political polarization of the parties in the USA can, however, severely limit the power of the president, at least if his party does not have a majority in the two chambers of Congress (divided government). In contrast, the power of the president increases when the executive and legislative branches are controlled by one party (unified government).

What role do the congressional elections play?

The Congress electionswhich are taking place in parallel to the presidential election this year are of great importance because the president depends on the cooperation with the Congress in his political reform projects due to the system of 'checks and balances'. If his party does not have a majority in both chambers (House of Representatives and Senate), Congress can block its reform projects. According to recent polls, it looks like Republicans can hold a majority of 247 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. All MPs are re-elected there every two years. In the Senate, only a third of the seats in the Senate are filled because the senators' term of office is 6 years. In this election there are 34 senators who came into office in the 2010 mid-term elections. Including some Republican candidates who were victorious in actually democratic states. In the current election campaign, the Democrats are betting on being able to recapture these Senate seats. However, if there were different party political majorities in the two chambers in Congress, the USA could also face a blockade policy in the coming legislative period, as we have seen in the last six years of Obama's term in office.

What role does money play in the election campaign?

money plays an increasingly important role in the US election campaign. In the current election campaign, the candidates and the political organizations that support them (Super Political Action Committees, PACs for short) have already collected over 1.5 billion US dollars and spent most of them again. Much of the money is invested in campaign advertising on television and social media, but also to build a viable campaign organization in all states. Overall, the money in US election campaigns is divided into two areas: the campaigns themselves, where there are strict campaign funding laws that guarantee the upper limits and also the transparency of donors. Here it is fundamentally stipulated that individuals may support the election campaign with a maximum of US $ 2,500 per candidate in the congressional election campaign or US $ 5,000 per candidate in the presidential election campaign. Companies, associations and unions are not allowed to support candidates financially. At the same time, however, as a result of a decision by the Supreme Court in the USA in 2010, a second area has emerged in which the so-called Super PACs cavort. The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the right to freedom of expression also applies to companies and associations and that donations fall under the formation and expression of opinion. In a further ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the Political Action Committees (PACs) may collect unlimited donations if they do not pass these funds on directly to candidates, parties or other PACs or coordinate their activities with a specific campaign. As a result of this regulation, the SuperPacs then primarily campaign negative, i.e. they concentrate and criticize the opposing campaign. These new PACs are known as Super PACs. You do not have to name your donor and the amount donated until you have voted.

What role do the parties play in the election campaign?

Generally playing political Parties in the USA a less important role than, for example, in Germany. In contrast to Germany, where their role in the formation of political will is defined in Article 21 of the Basic Law, parties are not mentioned in the constitution and are therefore a private organization in the true sense of the word. The orientation towards candidates in the US political system also weakens the role and influence of political parties. However, the importance of political parties increased as a result of ideological polarization and the reforms of Congress in the 1970s. They offer candidates a good infrastructure for the election campaign, can also raise donations and have valuable data on the attitudes of voters and certain groups of voters, which can help the candidates to better target their election message to these voters. Since the Congress reforms of the 1970s, the parties have played an increasingly important role in the organization of day-to-day legislative work. The respective party leadership in Congress determines the filling of important committee positions. Previously, the selection was primarily based on the seniority of the MPs. Presidents must therefore be considerate of the interests of the parties in order to be able to work effectively with them in Congress. We are currently seeing an increasing party-political polarization and ideologization in the political system. Cooperation across party lines is becoming more and more difficult. However, Donald Trump's nomination in the current election campaign has shown how limited the influence of the party organization can be, for example on the selection of the candidate. Thanks to the relatively open pre-election system, candidates who are not supported by the party leadership can also be nominated for the presidential nomination.

What role do polls play in the election campaign?

Survey are an important vote barometer in the presidential election campaign. On the one hand, they give the candidates, but also the public, an exact picture of the current status of voter preferences. The US-wide surveys provide information about the current popularity of the candidates and their campaigns. But the polls from the swing states are more important because these states have a significant impact on the outcome of the election. Surveys among certain population groups are also important. How is the candidate received, for example, by women or by Afro-Americans. These surveys are mainly used and commissioned by the candidates in order to be able to focus the content of the election campaign on the interests and attitudes of the respective population groups. This year, the polls had a significant impact on the primary campaign, as the major TV channels made candidates' participation in TV debates dependent on the results of national polls. In the main election campaign, too, polls had an impact on the presidential debates. Only those candidates with more than 15 percent in the polls were allowed to participate in the debate. As a consequence, third party candidates could not participate in the debates.

When does the President take office?

The 20th amendment to the constitution from 1933 stipulated that the president would always be in office on January 20th after the presidential election occurs. So Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would take office on January 20, 2017 at 12 noon. Until then, Obama is still officially President of the USA. Before that, presidents did not take office until 4.March on, the day the US Constitution came into effect in 1778. At the inauguration of office, the president must take his oath of office. In addition, new presidents give an inaugural speech after the oath, the inaugural speech. The period between the election of US citizens on November 8, 2016 and the inauguration on January 20, 2017 is explained by the system of the Electoral College. In November only the electors are elected. They do not transmit their votes to the congress until December, which in turn announces the result in early January. On the one hand, the period between the election and the inauguration makes a regulated change of office possible; on the other hand, this is a relatively long period in which the old government no longer has an actual mandate. This is why the term 'lame duck' (lame duck) has established itself in the debate to aptly describe the incumbent's situation in the period between the whale and the inauguration of the new president. In view of the significantly increased staff of the White House in the last century, however, the new president only has a relatively short period of time to fill all positions in the government.