How Elections Work

Elections give registered voters the chance to decide who they want to run their country and represent their interests. But before you decide whom you're voting for, it is important to understand exactly how the system works.

There are two levels in the federal election process: Congressional and Presidential.

Let's focus on the Congressional races first. The United States Congress is divided into 2 houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House of Representatives is designed to give a voice to the people of every local voting region in the country. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for 2-year terms, and must face re-election every election cycle.

Each state is split into Districts, and each District votes for one Representative. The number of Districts is dependent on the population of each state. For example, California has the largest population in the country, and is split into 53 Districts, giving it 53 Representatives. Alaska is a huge state, but has a very small population, and a a result has only 1 District, meaning there is only 1 Representative in the House from Alaska.

Illinois is divided into 19 different Districts, and therefore has 19 Representatives in the House of Representatives. There are 435 Representatives total in the House. Representatives are also called Congressmen/Congresswomen.

During an election, the candidate with the most votes in the District wins a seat in the House.

Senators, like Members of the House of Representatives, are also elected to their seats by the public. The Senate, on the other hand, is considered the Upper House. It's the Senate's job to scrutinize and question the proposals made by both the House and the President himself, before voting them into law.

Senators serve 6-year terms and elections are staggered so that every 2 years, 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election. Each state has 2 Senators, regardless of its population--meaning there are a total of 100 Senators. Again, the candidate who receives the most votes wins a seat in the Senate.

The Presidential Election is slightly different. Presidents are elected to serve 4-year terms. There are 2 main political parties: Democrats and Republicans. Each party elects a candidate to represent them in the General Election. The candidate then selects a running-mate who, if they are elected, will serve as the Vice President.

Election Day is always the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Citizens head to the polls to cast their votes. This is where the Electoral College System comes into play. Each state is allocated a number of Electors. A state has the same number of Electors as it does Members of Congress.

Illinois, for example, has 19 Representatives in the House, and 2 Senators--giving the state 21 Electors. Typically, all of the state's Electors vote for the Presidential ticket that received the most support.

The candidate that receives the most Electoral College votes becomes President of the United States of America.

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