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Electoral System in US

Sophie painted us the big picture of the US electoral system. Basically, you have three branches.

  • Legislative
  • Executive and
  • Judical

The idea behind these three instances is, that there is the concept of check and balances. So, say, if the executive for some reason goes havock and wants to do things that Legislative and Judical do not want, he cannot do them.

The Legislative Branch

The Congress represents the Legislative. What the congress does or does not depends on the Bill of Rights and the so called 10 amendments.

You can find the Congress in Capitol Hill, Washington DC.

The big joker of the Congress: it can override the veto of the Executive (the president).

What does the Congress do? It has a couple of duties like

  • Laying and collecting taxes,
  • Rattifying treaties and even
  • Declaring War

In fact, the vietnam apparently seems to have happend because of a decision of the congress. More about that later.

The Congress consists of two parts

The House of Representatives

It has 439 members, which depends on population. Every ten years, the population is recounted and the number of members adapted.

The leading character in the House of Representatives is called The Speaker.

The Senate

Consists of 100 members. Every one of them must have been US citizen at least for 9 years as well as at least 30 years old.

The Vice President of the United State is automatically President of the Senate. There's also a Prolempore President, which represents him in case of absence.

The real power though is in the hands of the Majority Floor Reader.

The Executive Branch

Consists mainly of the president and the vice president, which are elected for four years. A president must be born in US, so that's bad cards for Mr. Schwarzenegger.

Other members of the executive branch include the cabinet, the presidential office, the CIA, Nato and so on.

While nations like France have a couple of candidates (in 2002, there were 16 of them), Americans only allow one member of each party to be voted for.

The american presidential election is a somewhat tendious process that has three parts

  • The primaries
  • National Convention
  • Popular vote (538 presidential electors)

It is "Win or Take All".

In 1996, Bill Clinton had 361 presidential electors on his side. He won, even though he only had 49 percent of the popular votes. Some see that as problematic, it doesn't look very democratic to me. But what do I know.

  • Electoral vote -- oath on the Bible

No, I will not look up the oath in the Internet.

Power of the president

The President has

  • veto power, is
  • commander of chief of army and is the
  • chief diplomat of country

Supreme Court

The decisions of the court are final. It is the highest court and the last resourt.

Before going to the Supreme Court, the cases have to be heard by lower courts.

There is a two party system. If you look closely on the picture on top of this text, you might be able to see them. The Democratic party, which is the older one, has been founded in 1829. Their symbol is the donkey.

The Republicans on the other hand have been founded in 1854 and have an elephant as their symbol.

It is quiz time!

So, in case you want to travell back in time and boast with you knowledge: I have noted the answers below.

Who was president when?

  • 1933 Roosevelt
  • 1945 Trumann
  • 1953 Eisenhover "there are no 2nd class people"
  • 1969 Nixon
  • 1974 Ford
  • 1976 Carter
  • 1980 Reagan
  • 1988 Bush
  • 1992 Clinton (remember the Saxophone?)
  • 2000 Bush

Notes of Mr. Gauster-Filek

The most important concept of the us electoral system is the Balance of Power, the so called checks and balances. No one of the three branches has absolute power!

There's the

  • CONGRESS, the
  • President, and the
  • Supreme Court / Courts

To some degree, the power of the individual body depends on how much they want to excercise their power. President Bush takes more power than for example President Carter did. Also it seems, that President Bush tries to change the republican party more and more to be like Mr. Bush it seems.

Two years ago, Mr. Gauster-Filek would have seen the Republicans and the Democrats as two big tents. Both would contain Liberals (Lefts), Middle of the Road and Conservatives (Rights).

Right now though, the situation is a different one. The Republicans are basically conservative. As well in political as in social matters. The Democrats on the other hand are more middle of the road / left.

The Democrats

The media and the public opinion right now identifies the Democrats with Minorities. That wouldn't be that bad if they wouldn't shoot themselves in the foot. Their good intentions are executed rather clumsy.

The Democrats are identified with Gay Rights, Black Rights, and dozens of other minorities. But where's the average guy from the street? Add their afraidness of Bush to that and you know why they are loosing.

The Republicans

Bush was against Abortion and against the gay marriage / social contract during the elections. That gave strong majorities.

What's more: US right now has a lot of old and sick justices / judges. The President, that's Mr. Bush, has the right to name new ones as soon as they are out of business.

Btw. Justices are the ones in Supreme Court, judges those in the other courts.

General Party behavior

In the US, people don't have to follow what their party does. Different to Austria, independent opinions are possible.

Also a hot issue: The reform of social security. Bush has an strong opinion here, but the rest will probably not follow.

Why Schwarzenegger will not become US president? Because it would take to long, the constitution would have to be changed. But he could become Austrian president... (Note: Would he introduce death-penalty here? I would want to throw him out then).

How did Vietnam happen?

(Thanks to Mr. Gauster-Filek to answering my question about that)

Vietnam to a degree because of France. (Sidenote: Sophie, the girl giving this presentation, is actually a ERASMUS student from France. So all eyes were on her after that remark :-))

There was the Domino theory: If Vietnam falls, everything else would get communistic.

The question remains: Have the US ships really been attacked by north-vietnamese? The congress didn't start the war. But the congress gave the president the power to start it.

Since then, the president doesn't have as much power.

The thing about Iraq

Here, the congress actually wanted to support Kuwait. The congress gave the president power but didn't want (?).

Carry voted against helping Kuwait, but for war against Iraq before. That was seen as doubletalk, and so the population lost confidence in Carry.

Who is the most powerful?

Well, the Court makes laws and declars laws for unconstitutional.

The Civil Rights (as driven by Martin Luther King, etc.) were sucessful because of the courts. The "separate but equal" story wasn't believed by the courts and seen as unconstitutional.

There were separate schools for blacks and whites. Earlier, there even were separated bathrooms, drinking fountains, restaurants, and so on.

In 1954, the Supreme Court decided for the first time: Separate is not equal. Until at least 1964, they had decided that again and again.

In 1965, the Civil Right laws passed the Congress at last.

Moral: The American process is taking a long time. If you need support of at least 30 states, that is. So: No chance for Schwarzenegger becoming president! :-)

How is the president elected?

1) there are the primaries. (Note: need more info on that)

There's the Bush vs. McCane story, for example. To become elected, you need to win primaries.

While Austria does not see its politicans, the US might see them a bit too often.

2) the national convention

Here, the official naming of candidates takes place.

In July 2004, the republicans national convention took place. In August 2004, the democrats national convention took place.

3) the general election

Here, not the popular vote, but the electoral vote counts.

The next election takes place in 2008. And there are already (it is 2005 now) plans about the talk to New Hampshire!

the first primary creates a certain image. Once you start winning in the smaller states, you start getting more votes. It is a snowball effect.

In former days, when the constitution was made, there was no television. And thus, the president was not as powerful as today.

Clintons Problem

Clintons Problem was: media. Television was full of Monica.

Mr. Carey had vietnam-service problems. People said, he got his purple hearts because of self inflicted wounds.



Last modified 2005-03-31 18:21 by rck