Gov: Electing a President

The president is the national government’s chief executive, the top elected official in charge of enforcing laws and carrying out government policy. Any candidate seeking the presidency must satisfy certain qualifications laid down in the Constitution. The president must be a native-born citizen, be at least 35 years of age, and have lived in the country for at least 14 years. The Twenty-second Amendment added another rule. No one who has been elected president twice or who has served one full term plus more than half of another term can seek the office again. This amendment formalized the custom of a two-term president.

Candidates must also satisfy certain informal qualifications for office. These are traits that voters expect in their political leaders. Typically, candidates have backgrounds in business, law, or public service. Most are well educated. Nearly three-quarters of all presidents have earned college degrees. Most have worked their way up the political ladder by holding other elective offices. Historically, most presidents have been white, male, and from the middle or upper class. Religious affiliation can be another informal qualification, especially for presidential candidates. Almost all U.S. presidents have been Protestant. A non-Protestant candidate would likely face an uphill battle in winning the presidency.

The president is chosen by the Electoral College, based on the popular vote count in each state. When we vote for president in the next election, we will actually be voting for electors who have promised to support our candidate. The number of electors from each state equals the number of that state’s representatives in Congress. There are 538 electors in all, which means that a candidate must win at least 270 electoral votes to become president. If no candidate wins a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives selects the president, with each state casting one vote.

Succession rules for the presidency are spelled out in the Constitution and federal law. Should a president be unable to complete a four year term because of death, disability, resignation, or removal from office, the law provides clear guidelines for replacing the president. The line of succession for the presidency begins with the vice president. If the vice president cannot serve, the next successor is the speaker of the House, followed by the president pro tempore of the Senate, and then by the secretary of state. Other cabinet members continue the line of succession in a specific order.

It is often said that the vice president is “a heartbeat away” from the presidency. The main job of the vice president is to take over if something should happen to the president. The Constitution gives the vice president almost no formal powers other than this one. For that reason, some politicians have refused the chance to run for vice president.



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