DW Special / Chandigarh:
Kal K Korff
What makes this yearÔÇÖs election of special interest is that for the first time in AmericaÔÇÖs history, most voters are now tired of these two parties and record numbers of them are now open to supporting a viable third party alternative
“We The People” are the first three words that appear in the official Constitution of the United States of America. These three words were deliberately written larger than any others, because they were meant to emphasize that the USA is a democracy whose government and President are chosen by the people.
Yet to many individuals outside America, how its political system really works (especially its lengthy presidential election) remains a mystery. LetÔÇÖs examine it in detail, and explain how and why this yearÔÇÖs election in 2016 is historic in ways that have never been seen before.
Two Party System
The American political system is largely a two party affair comprised of Democrats and Republicans. While there are certainly other political parties, it is only these two who have any real traction.
While none currently exists, there are two candidates, one Republican and one Democrat, whose unexpected success are a direct reflection of this volcanic voter frustration.
Frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump is the stunning example on the Republican side of this election equation. A party outsider who is not a conservative, Trump is not liked by the Republican PartyÔÇÖs elites, yet unless he doesnÔÇÖt want the job, he will be their nominee. Trump has polarized voters and has galvanized them. Millions of people are now voting to either support him or try to stop him.
Trump says the current system is ÔÇÿbrokenÔÇÖ and most Americans agree. They donÔÇÖt want more political careerists, they want someone from the outside who is not beholden to Big Money or Wall Street, to fix the countryÔÇÖs numerous problems. Americans are so frustrated they are supporting Trump, who has no political experience and has never held public office.
On the Democratic side of this election, there is the unexpected success of Senator Bernie SandersÔÇÖ campaign. Sanders is also despised by the partyÔÇÖs elite because they cannot control him. His campaign is a grass roots one, 99 percent of the money he has raised has come from individuals, whereas standing in contrast is Hillary Clinton, whose campaign donations from Big Money and Wall Street account for over 33 percent of the money she has received.
Sanders, like Trump, is calling for radical changes. Unlike TrumpÔÇÖs proposed solutions, SandersÔÇÖ will actually work. The fact that both Trump and Sanders continue to enjoy such widespread support, is because most Americans are tired of the status quo and desire real real change instead of more promised, continual chump change.
The USA consists of 50 states plus one district, known as the District of Columbia or Washington DC. Each state has two representatives in the Senate, called Senators, which is why the Senate has 100 members. A SenatorÔÇÖs term in office is for six years.
Existing within each state are districts. The number of districts a state has is determined by its population. California, for example, has the largest number of districts in the USA because most Americans live there compared to other states.
A Congressman or Congresswoman, represents their district. They are directly elected by the voters and serve in office for a period of just two years. After two years, if they wish to continue, they must win re-election.
The Senate is the upper house of Congress. After a bill is passed in the lower hour by Congress, the Senate must also ratify it before they send it to the President for his signature. Once the President signs the bill, it becomes law.
The President is not only the head of state, but is also the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces. The PresidentÔÇÖs term in office is limited to four years. After which, the President must stand for re-election or leave office.
If re-elected, a second term of four years is awarded. The US Constitution limits a President to being able to serve for only two terms in office, no more. Examples of successful past presidents who served two terms in office have been Republican Ronald Reagan, Democrat Bill Clinton, Republican George W. Bush, and current President, Democrat Barack Obama.
All 50 States
One of the reasons the American election takes at least two years of laying the groundwork for and campaigning is because typically, every candidate running for President must visit all 50 states or at least have a viable presence established in them.
States have two kinds of mechanisms to help with elections. Some (like the state of Iowa) have what is called a ÔÇÿcaucus,ÔÇÖ which are local gatherings where party members choose representatives to go to the nominating convention. When this process is followed properly, when a candidate wins a state that uses the caucus system, caucus representatives vote for that candidate at the partyÔÇÖs nominating convention.
Delegates are appointed by the party to attend the nominating convention. If things go ÔÇÿnormally,ÔÇÖ (and there are certainly times like this election where they do not), delegates typically heed the will of the people and vote to support that candidate.
Most Americans do not like the fact that Super Delegates (SDs) exist. The reason is obvious ÔÇô an SD is not bound by the will of the people, he or she can vote anyway they feel like at the nominating convention.
In the case of this yearÔÇÖs 2016 presidential election, this is where Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton has always had a clear ÔÇÿinsiderÔÇÖ advantage before the campaign officially began.
The Clintons have been shrewd, locking up the commitments of more than 400 SDs before the first caucus in Iowa was even held!
How did Hillary obtain such backing? She did it the old fashioned way ÔÇô by trading horses per se, doling out political favors, and making sure that out of the roughly two billion dollars she has raised to run for President, that hundreds of millions of dollars from her war chest are being spent on lower level politicians and races that will insure SD loyalty.
While ClintonÔÇÖs rival, Bernie Sanders, continues to win primary victories, Clinton holds an insurmountable lead in delegates once you factor in the SDs she locked up and put safely in her basket before the election started.
The Democrats, understandably, are now under tremendous pressure to eliminate the SD system, and they should.
The term Presidential Primaries or ÔÇÿprimariesÔÇÖ as it is known, refers to the official contests that take place in all 50 states to win caucuses or delegates. Each state has different numbers of delegates that it sends to the nominating convention based on its total population. California, once again, has the largest number of them.
If a state has 23 delegates for example, a candidate might win that state, but not automagically all 23 delegates. This is because some states have what is called proportional awarding of delegates. If Trump, in this example, won 62 percent of the votes in a state using this system, he would get 62 percent of the delegates, the rest would be divided up among the other candidates based on how well they did, or they might even remain uncommitted.
The idea behind proportional awarding of delegates is that it theoretically encourages competition. Even if a candidate loses a specific state, he or she still receives some delegates.
Other states have what is called a ÔÇÿwinner take allÔÇÖ system, where if that candidate wins the popular vote, all delegates are awarded to that victor.
Debates, Debates, Debates
Unlike most other countries, a key part of AmericaÔÇÖs democratic system exists in the form of debates. Lots of them. No person can run for President if they do not agree to hold a series of debates.
There is no limit to the number of debates that are held during the primaries and caucuses. What is certain, is that every candidate hoping to succeed must participate in them, or Americans wonÔÇÖt vote for them.
Typically, these debates are divided up among the TV networks, who have their news anchors and hosts ask the candidates questions. Each debate is focused on a specific theme such as international affairs, or domestic issues.
Also expected from any aspiring presidential candidate is what are called ÔÇÿTown HallÔÇÖ style debates. This is when a live audience is brought in, and the candidates have to take questions from that audience and interact with the public on a more one-to-one, personal basis.
Ever since Democrat John Kennedy used television to debate and defeat Republican Richard Nixon, debates can either make or break a candidate. This is especially true in todayÔÇÖs online connected world where everyone has a Twitter or Facebook account and uses everything from YouTube to WhatsApp to get their messages across.
The final round of debates usually consists of four events, starting weeks before the final election in November. The nominee from the Republican and Democratic parties hold three
debates against each other, with the Vice-Presidential candidates usually holding one.
If current trends continue, this means that Donald Trump will be debating Hillary Clinton in October and November in the final round for the Presidency.
Decades earlier, Republican Gerald Ford lost to Democrat Jimmy Carter after he blew his debate performance by insisting that Poland was a ÔÇ£free countryÔÇØ during that time, when in fact Poland was under the brutal rule of the former Communist Soviet Union or USSR. FordÔÇÖs comments made him come across as being ÔÇ£beyond naiveÔÇØ or out of touch with reality. Carter seized the moment, and won.
Perhaps the most famous use of debating skills took place when Republican Ronald Reagan ran against Carter and successfully prevented his re-election.
As the debate ended, Reagan asked Americans to think about one simple question as they voted: ÔÇ£Are you better off today than you were four years ago?ÔÇØ
If the answer is ÔÇ£No,ÔÇØ Reagan argued, vote for him. If the answer is ÔÇ£Yes,ÔÇØ vote for Carter. With most Americans hurting economically back then, this was a brilliant move by Reagan, whose decades in Hollywood as an actor paid off. Reagan swept all 50 states, then won a second term in office.
The Nominating Convention
After all of the state primaries and caucuses are finished, all of the delegates and super delegates and candidates meet in a city to hold their nominating convention. This event lasts anywhere from 3-5 days, today they are much shorter affairs than they used to be. Both parties prefer to choose their candidate during the first round of voting, if possible. This happens when a candidate secures enough delegates to ÔÇÿclinchÔÇÖ the nomination outright. On the Republican side of things, unless his fortunes completely implode, billionaire Donald Trump will have won enough delegates to win the Republican nomination on the first ballot.
Senator Ted Cruz, however, has other ideas. He is still hoping to deny Trump that first round victory, and continues to try to get delegates to ignore their own stateÔÇÖs voters, and back him. Should Cruz succeed, a second round of voting will take place, and then according to the partyÔÇÖs own rules, delegates can support whomever they wish, they do not need to heed the will of the voters.
The USA uses a system called the Electoral College to oversee the final voting for President. Based on popular vote, officials called ÔÇ£ElectorsÔÇØ are supposed to cast their votes for President and Vice-President, accordingly.
California, once again, has the largest number of electoral votes. Similarly, the states of New York, Florida and Texas also have large numbers. Since it takes 270 electoral votes to win the Presidency, it is possible that the winner could sweep the large states, yet lose the votes in the smaller ones or even in what are called ÔÇÿswingÔÇÖ states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana or Illinois, and still win!
The thinking behind having electors is that they are supposed to insure that the will of the people is enforced when voting for President. While this system works much more than it has failed, in the 2000 election, Al Gore won more popular votes than George Bush did, yet Bush was declared the winner by the Supreme Court.
We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.