The United States elects a new President every four years on the first Tuesday in November. In order to run for President, an individual must fulfill these three requirements: a natural-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years old and a resident of the U.S. for at least 14 years. The Constitution describes the necessary process for election. The same president can only remain in office for two four-year terms.
The American political system has two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. A few independent parties generally challenge these two leaders, but don’t usually have enough backing to hold much sway in the end. In order to represent one of the political parties, the presidential hopeful must first get the majority vote from his/her own party. This occurs almost a year before the election, with campaigning beginning as much as two years before. Many factors influence who ultimately gamers the candidacy, including media reports, public opinion polls, campaign budgets and advertising.
State primaries and caucuses take place for approximately six months prior to the national convention. Voters in each state select delegates to the Electoral College; the larger and more populated the state, the more delegates they have. The number of electors for each state equals the number of Congressional representatives for that state. These primaries narrow down which candidate will ultimately receive their parties’ endorsement and nomination. During this time, candidates choose a running mate to serve as their vice-presidential candidate and the two run for office as a team. If the presidential candidate wins, his running mate automatically takes office as vice-president.
Then, in November of the election year, citizens go to the polls to vote and let their state’s electors know who they want for the next President of the United States. While this popular vote has no legal significance, it lets the electors know how the opinion of the majority of their voters. While the electors do not legally have to vote according to the majority in their state, they almost always choose to cast their vote in accordance with those numbers. The Electoral College votes determine whether their state has voted to support the Democratic or Republican Party candidate. Therefore, if the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote in California (the state with the largest number of electoral votes), then the 54 electoral votes allotted to California will go towards the Democratic candidate. If the Republican candidate wins the popular vote in Rhode Island (the state with the fewest electoral votes), then the Republican candidate will receive the four electoral votes allotted to Rhode Island.
Since 538 electors vote (representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia), the presidential candidate must win at least 270 votes to declare victory in the election. Technically, a candidate can win the popular vote but not the vote of the Electoral College. In that case, the Electoral College vote decides who wins the Presidential election.
On January 20 the president-elect and vice-president-elect take the oath of office and get inaugurated to begin their terms.