- Background Of The US Government
- Democratic Principles
- Individual Rights - Natural Rights
- Individual Rights - Bill of Rights
- United States Government - Federal, State and Local Government
- United States Government - Executive, Legislative and Judicial Branches
- United States Government - Separation of Powers
- Formation of Political Parties- Federalists and Anti-Federalists
- Elections and Civic Responsibilities
- American Foreign Policy Since 9/11
GED Social Studies Practice Test: Elections and Civic Responsibilities
Elections are a natural part of any democratic republic. The citizens in every city throughout every state elect people to represent them and run the government at all levels. Elections ensure that government officials are accountable to the people and serves as a reminder that government only rules by the “consent of the governed.” Therefore, if citizens are not satisfied with their government officials, then they just vote for different officials during the next election. The election is the foundation of the democratic republic and without it the republic would cease to exist.
The President of the United States serves for a duration of four years. After four years, he/she can run for reelection and if successful they can serve as president for another four years. However, the president cannot serve any more than two terms in office (eight elected years). This prevents any one person from serving for life, such as a king or dictator. Although the founding fathers did not put this in place, it was made a law after President Franklin D. Roosevelt served four consecutive terms.
Electing the President
The President of the United States is elected by a process known as the electoral college. The electoral college is not a direct election. That is, the people do not actually directly elect the president. Instead, the president is elected by a group of people called electors. Those electors are the people who vote for the president. The presidential nominee with at least 270 electoral votes wins the national election and becomes President of the United States.
How it Works
There are a total of 538 electors in the United States. Each state is issued a certain number of electors based on the population of their state. Just like in congress, the larger states have more electors while the smaller states have less. To win the election, a presidential candidate must gain at least 270 of the 538 electoral votes.
- Electors are appointed within their state. The electors, however, are not government officials.
- After citizens vote within a state, the electors generally cast their votes according to how the citizens voted. Some states are “winner take all” states. For example, if the republican presidential candidate wins the majority of votes in the State of Kentucky, then he/she will win all of that state’s eight electoral votes.
- After all of the electors throughout the country cast their votes, the first presidential candidate to reach 270 votes wins the presidency.
The 2012 Presidential Election
As shown on the map below, President Obama won the 2012 presidential election with a total of 332 electoral votes, well above the 270 needed to win.
Why Not a Direct Election?
The president is not directly elected by the people because of a simple, but real fear the founding fathers had: mob rule. In the 1700s the “mob” or the “masses” was made up of the average person, usually the lower classes. As discussed earlier, the fathers feared that using direct democracy in electing the president would give the “mob” too much influence over the central government. The “mob” they believed was not wise enough to run the country and by giving them too much power in government, disaster would surely be the only result. It’s also important to keep in mind that the founding fathers were not of the lower classes. Many of them were wealthy and of the upper class.
The United States Congress is made up of two branches: (1) the Senate, and (2) the House of Representatives.
Unlike the president, senators are elected directly by the citizens (direct democracy). In 1787, however, the founding fathers did not design it to be this way or had they ever envisioned that it would be. Ever afraid of the”mob,” they designed it so that senators were elected by other government officials. As the United States progressed over time, however, that all changed. As citizens became restless of senators not being accountable to their needs, the constitution was ratified in 1913 with the 17th Amendment. The 17th Amendment states that senators are to be directly elected by the people.
Currently, each state has two senators and with fifty states in the United States of America, there are a total of one hundred senators. They serve for six years and then can run for reelection.
The House of Representatives
Members of the House of Representatives are elected directly by the citizens. This was how the founding fathers designed it in the constitution and was one of the few instances in which the “mob” would have great influence in government. The number of house members each state sends to congress depends on the population size of the state. Larger states send more while smaller states send less. Currently there are four hundred and thirty-five members of the House of Representatives in Congress. House members serve for two years and then can run for reelection.
When running for any political office, the candidate will campaign to gain the support of the citizens. In modern times, politicians campaign through almost any outlet in order to get their message heard. These outlets include social media, the newspaper (print and digital), and of course the television. Public appearances and campaign rallies are also very popular avenues to spread a campaign message.
Currently, there are two major political parties that dominate politics within the United States. They are the democrats and the republicans. Each party has its own agenda and almost every level of U.S. government is divided between the two of them. At that dividing line, their views are sometimes completely opposite on issues, from which heated debates ensue.
Every American within the United States has civic responsibilities. While some are ingrained in the law, others are optional. For instance, it is the civic responsibility of adult U.S. citizens to serve on a jury should they get selected. Also, if a draft is issued during a time of war, then adult males must serve in the military if they’re selected to serve. If citizens do not comply with these responsibilities, then they can be penalized by the government. Some civic responsibilities, however, are optional. The most popular of these is voting. While it’s encouraged for U.S. citizens to vote for their elected leaders, it’s not required. It’s simply up to the citizen whether or not they want to exercise their right to vote.