About Elections and Officials
Federal Elections and Offices
There are 542 Federal offices: President, Vice President, 100 U.S. Senators (two from each state), 435 U.S. Representatives, four delegates to the House of Representatives from U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, and one Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
U.S. Senators serve six-year terms, with one-third of them up for election every even-numbered year. U.S. Representatives serve two-year terms, with the entire House up for election every even-numbered year.
To find out who your U.S. Senator or Representative is and how to contact them:
State and Local Elections and Officials
In most states, state offices include: Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General, State Supreme Court Justices, Comptroller, Treasurer, State Senators and State Legislators. These officials are elected by the voters of the districts they serve.
Many states hold referenda to submit legislative matters to the voters for approval or rejection. Other matters that may appear on state ballots include bond initiatives, amendments to the state constitution and recalls of state elected officials.
Local Elections and Officials
Local officials make up the vast majority of elected officials in the U.S. These officials include mayor, town or city council members, county commissioner, etc. The number and titles of elected local officials vary.
Key Election Terms
Affidavit–sworn statement in writing usually made under oath or affirmation, before an authorized officer, notary, or court official.
Congressional District–division of a state, based on population, electing one member to the U. S. House of Representatives.
Electoral Vote–votes cast for President and Vice President by presidential electors. When a citizen votes for a presidential candidate, the ballot is cast for the group of presidential electors associated with that candidate in that state.
Elector–a qualified voter. Also used for the 538 members of the Electoral College.
Federal Ballot–ballot listing only candidates for Federal offices.
Federal Post Card Application (SF- 76)–simultaneous voter registration/absentee ballot request form used by U. S. citizens covered by the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA).
Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (SF- 186)–back-up Federal ballot used by UOCAVAcitizens to write in their choices for candidates for Federal offices in the general election if they have requested but not received their state ballot.
General Election–election held to choose among previously nominated candidates for Federal, state and local offices.
Municipal Election–election held in a city or town to vote for local officials or on questions of local interest.
Plurality–the difference in the number of votes cast for the two candidates receiving the most votes.
Popular Vote–number of votes cast by the people, as distinguished from the electoral vote.
Primary Election–election held to nominate a political party's candidates for the general election.
Closed Primary–primary in which voters must declare their political party affiliation and choose a candidate from that party's ballot.
Open Primary–primary in which voters may vote for the candidates of any party listed on the ballot.
Runoff–election held in some states if no candidate receives a specified percentage of the vote in the general election.
The Legislative Process
- A bill is written. A Senator or Representative may develop original legislation, or an association or private citizen's request that a bill be prepared and assist in its writing.
- A bill is introduced in the Senate and/ or House. It is assigned a number (S.- in the Senate and H. R.- in the House) and the title and sponsors are published in the Congressional Record.
- The Parliamentarians of the House and Senate assign bills to committees with the appropriate jurisdiction. The chair of the committee assigns the bill to the subcommittee with the most appropriate jurisdiction.
- The subcommittee may hold hearings on the bill and invite testimony from public and private witnesses. Individuals may make their views known by testifying, providing written statements or by allowing interest groups to represent them.
- Once the hearings are completed, the subcommittee may meet to consider amendments. It then votes on whether to report the bill favorably to the full committee. If not favorably reported, the bill dies.
- The full committee may repeat any or all of the subcommittee's actions: hearings, mark-up, and vote. If the committee votes favorably on the bill, it is ordered reported to the full Chamber (House of Representatives or Senate).
- When the bill reaches the floor of the House or Senate, the membership of the entire body can debate it. The bill may be amended, referred back to committee, or voted up or down.
- If the Bill is passed by the House or Senate, it is referred to the other body. A House-passed bill may be placed directly on the Senate Calendar, bypassing the subcommittees and committee reviews. Usually, however, the subcommittees and committees in both bodies have an opportunity to hold hearings, debate, and amend legislative proposals. Related or identical legislation often proceeds through the House and Senate simultaneously.
- If a bill is passed in identical form by the House and Senate, it can be immediately delivered to the President.
- If there are significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, each chamber appoints an ad hoc conference committee to resolve the differences. Conference committees are composed of Senators and Representatives on the committees which originally considered the legislation.
- If the conferees are unable to reach agreement, the legislation dies. If they reach agreement, the bill is sent back to both the House and Senate. Both must approve the revised bill.
- The bill then goes to the President for his signature. He has four options: (1) if he signs the bill, it becomes law; (2) if he takes no action within ten days while Congress is in session, the bill becomes law; (3) if he takes no action while Congress is adjourned at the end of the second session, the bill is "pocket vetoed" and dies; or, (4) the President may veto the bill.
- If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may attempt to "override the veto." This requires a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate. If either fails to get a two-thirds vote, the bill dies.