An official website of the United States government

Summary of the U.S. Presidential Election Process


One Year Before the Elections

Candidates from the two main political parties the Democrats and the Republicans begin their campaign trails. They set up their team and start “going on tour” around the country to rally for support and to fundraise for their campaigns.

At the Start of the Campaigns

Candidates from both parties participate in televised debates. During the debates each candidate will have to answer tough questions about their policies as well as defend their stance on issues and policies against other candidates.

Then the Elections Process Begins

The U.S. Presidential Election process can be daunting. What’s an electoral college? What’s the difference between a primary and a caucus? What are national conventions for? We’re here to answer your questions.

Election process infographic.

Step 1: Primaries and Caucuses

There are many people who want to be President, each with their own ideas about how the government should work. People with similar ideas belong to the same political party. This is where primaries and caucuses come in. Candidates from each political party campaign through the country to win the favor of their party members.

Beginning in February the main voting events Primaries and Caucuses will lead to a selection of delegates who will represent the people at the upcoming conventions. The main focus will be on the results from Iowa New Hampshire Nevada and South Carolina which can usually determine who the final presidential nominee for each party will be.

In a Caucus

Party members select the best candidate through a series of discussions and votes.

In a Primary

Party members vote for the best candidate that will represent them in the general election.

Step 2: National Conventions

Each party holds a national convention to select a final presidential nominee. State delegates from the primaries and caucuses selected to represent the people will now “endorse” their favorite candidates and the final presidential nominee from each party will be officially announced at the end of the conventions. The presidential candidate also chooses a running mate (Vice Presidential candidate). The presidential candidates campaign throughout the country to win the support of the general population.

Step 3: General Election

People in every state across the country vote for one President and Vice President. When Americans go to the polls in November they will select their favorite presidential candidate and their running mate.

When people cast their vote, they are actually voting for a group of people called electors. Except in the states of Maine and Nebraska, if a candidate receives the majority of the votes from the people of a state then the candidate will receive all electoral votes of that state.

The presidential nominee with the most electoral votes becomes the President of the United States.

Step 4: Electoral College

The Electoral college is a process in which electors or representatives from each state in number proportional to the state’s population cast their vote and determine who will be president.

Each state gets a certain number of electors based on its representation in Congress. There are a total of 538 electors selected according to each state’s policy. Each elector casts one vote following the general election, and the candidate who gets more than half (270) wins.

The newly elected President and Vice President are inaugurated in January.