Learn About Different Elections You Can Vote In

The United States has three fundamental elections citizens can vote in: primary, general and special. Government officials at local, state and federal levels level are elected to their positions through a voting system in which the majority rules. Federal elections serve to elect a presidential candidate as well as congressional leaders, whereas state and local elections allow voters to choose governors, mayors and local officials. Partisan and non-partisan elections also exist, which consist of ballots that indicate candidates’ party affiliations and ballots that do not.

Primary Elections

Primary elections in the U.S. were first held in the early 20th century in order to grant voters more leverage in choosing candidates to run for office. In a primary election, citizens who are registered to vote can take part in electing a presidential candidate for each political party. The two basic types of primary elections are open and closed. 

A closed primary allows registered voters who are affiliated with a particular political party to vote for their favored candidate within their party. For instance, a registered Republican is only allowed to participate in the Republican primary and vice versa. An open primary differs in the sense that registered voters are granted the ability to participate in elections regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with a specific political party. Primaries are used for local, state, and national elections in the U.S.

General Elections

United States general elections serve to elect government officials of every level. General elections include:

  • Presidential Elections.
  • Congressional Elections.
  • State Elections.
  • Local Elections.

Presidential Elections

U.S. presidential elections take place every four years on Election Day, which falls on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in the month of November. The winning presidential candidates from each political party, along with their vice presidential running mates, are all listed on ballots voters must select from. The presidential elections are determined using the Electoral College. The Electoral College consists of 538 electors who cast votes to decide the president and vice president. Voters who go to the polls on Election Day are selecting which candidate will earn their state’s electors to vote in their favor. To win the presidency, a presidential candidate must win a majority of the electoral votes. If no presidential candidate receives the majority of the electoral votes, the House of Representatives will vote for the president and the Senate will vote for the vice president.

Congressional Elections

U.S. congressional elections consist of electing both the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Each congressional election takes place once every two years. Senate and House of Representative officials are elected through the public’s popular vote. The Senate consists of 100 members with two Senate members for each state. Whereas the House of Representatives has a total of 435 members who are each elected for two-year terms.

State Elections

State elections are regulated by state legislatures at both state and local levels of government. State legislatures and governors are elected separately during elections. Along with electing governors, certain states also elect officials such as secretaries of state and attorney generals. Other states allow Supreme Court members to be elected in state-level elections. State elections are usually held at the same time as federal elections.

Local Elections

Both county and city officials are elected in local election voting processes. Local officials who are elected may include mayors, sheriffs and school board members. Each state government regulates the local election process. Local elections may be held on even-numbered years and during odd-numbered years, which are usually referred to as “off-years.”

Special Elections

Special elections take place when there are vacancies in government office positions due to resignation, removal from office or death. Special districts such as water districts have the right to hold special elections as well. Special elections are conducted if an elected office becomes vacant in between general elections.