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U.S. Elections

Under the American system of government, presidential, congressional and state governor elections are held at different intervals and under different circumstances.

General elections are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Many elections are thus held simultaneously. An elector may vote for President, House district, Senate, Governor, State legislature and a host of other positions on the same occasion.

Special elections may be held at any time.

Presidential Elections

The president and vice president are elected to four-year terms in even-number years evenly divisible by 4 (e.g. 1992, 1996, 2000, etc.) The 22nd amendment to the Constitution limits presidents to no more than two terms.

In the event the presidency becomes vacant due to death, permanent disability, resignation or impeachment, the vice president becomes the new president. During the temporary disability of the president, the vice president serves as acting president. In the event of a vice presidential vacancy, the president nominates a replacement who must be approved by Congress before taking office as the new vice president.

Senate Elections

Senators are elected to six-year terms in even-numbered years. The terms are staggered so that the terms of approximately one-third of all Senators expire every two years. Thus, approximately 30-36 Senate seats are up for re-election every two years. The Constitution establishes no limit on the number of terms a person may serve in the Senate.

If a senator dies, resigns or is expelled, the governor of the affected state appoints a temporary replacement who holds office until a special election can be held to elect a replacement.

House of Representatives Elections

Members of the U.S. House of Representatives are elected to two-year terms in even-numbers years. In the event a representative dies, resigns or is expelled, a special election is held to elect a replacement. The Constitution establishes no limit on the number of terms a person may serve in the House.

The four non-voting delegates to Congress from the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands and America Samoa are also elected to two-year terms in even-numbered years, while Puerto Rico’s non-voting resident commissioner in Congress is elected to a four-year term in the same years as presidential elections are held.

Gubernatorial Elections

The constitution of each state specifies the terms of office for its governor. As a result, governors may serve either a two- or four-year term. In most states, governors are elected in even-numbered years, but in several states gubernatorial elections are held in odd-numbered years. The number of terms a governor may serve also varies from state to state. A number of states allow governors to serve an unlimited number of terms, while others restrict governors to a single term.

In most states, political parties hold primary elections to select their candidates for governor and federal office. In a number of states, however, party members meet in conventions or caucuses to select their candidates. Each state determines its own date for holding primary elections, with most primaries taking place in the period May-September immediately before the general election.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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