In the U.S., no one is required by law to vote in any local, state, or presidential election. According to the U.S. Constitution, voting is a right and a privilege. Many constitutional amendments have been ratified since the first election. However, none of them made voting mandatory for U.S. citizens.
The election process begins with primary elections and caucuses. These are two methods that states use to select a potential presidential nominee. In general, primaries use secret ballots for voting. Caucuses are local gatherings of voters who vote at the end of the meeting for a particular candidate. Then it moves to nominating conventions, during which political parties each select a nominee to unite behind. During a political party convention, each presidential nominee also announces a vice presidential running mate. The candidates then campaign across the country to explain their views and plans to voters. They may also participate in debates with candidates from other parties.
The presidential election process follows a typical cycle:
- Spring of the year before an election – Candidates announce their intentions to run.
- Summer of the year before an election through spring of the election year – Primary and caucus tooltip debates take place.
- January to June of election year – States and parties hold primaries tooltip and caucuses.
- July to early September – Parties hold nominating conventions to choose their candidates.
- September and October – Candidates participate in presidential debates.
- Early November – Election Day
- December – Electors tooltip cast their votes in the Electoral College.
- Early January of the next calendar year – Congress counts the electoral votes.
- January 20 – Inauguration Day