An election is the process of selecting representative to hold public office. It is the right of people to make a choice in appointing officials. The purpose of an election is to express the will of an electorate. Citizenship and suffrage (right to vote) are separate. Suffrage is not one of the universal or inalienable rights. The right to vote is merely a privilege which is granted by the sovereign power at its option. Suffrage is not reviewable by any other power. Suffrage shall not be denied or abridged by the state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude[i].
In the U.S., officials are elected at national, state and local levels. A presidential system of government is followed in the U.S. In a presidential system of government, executive and legislature are elected separately. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution provides the manner of election and qualifications of members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Article 2 of the Constitution prescribes the manner of election for the President and Vice President. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the U.S. The Fifteenth Amendment provides that the right of citizens of the U.S to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The U.S. constitution prescribes basic qualifications of an individual to participate in an election. According to the constitution, every citizen above eighteen years has the right to vote. The right to vote cannot be denied on the basis of race, color, or sex. State legislatures regulate the eligibility of an individual for voting. It is also the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate the qualifications for a candidate appearing on a ballot paper. In most states, citizens must register to vote before casting a ballot.
In federal elections, presidential and congressional elections are conducted. The U.S. constitution regulates federal elections. Congressional and presidential elections take place simultaneously every four year. The presidential election is conducted indirectly by an electoral college. The President and the Vice President are elected in a presidential election. Congress has two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. There are a hundred members in the Senate. A senator is elected for a six year term. Two members are elected from each state, and one-third of the members are renewed every two years. The House of Representatives has four hundred and thirty five members. One member is elected from each state. Members of the House of Representatives are elected for two years.
State laws and state constitutions regulate elections at the state level and local level. The governor and members of legislatures and most of the state level and local level officials are appointed through election. More than one million offices are filled in every electoral cycle in the U.S.
Moreover, in the U.S., two types of elections are conducted: a general election and a special or by-election. General elections are those held on fixed dates for choosing officers for regular periods of time. In general election the voters can exercise their choice by casting ballots. Every one having the qualifications of an elector has a right to participate in every general election[ii]. Special elections are held to fill a political office that has become vacant between regularly scheduled elections, or to vote upon some special measure[iii].
The U S. is a constitutional democracy and the constitution grants to all citizens a right to participate in the choice of elected officials without restriction[iv]. This grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nullified by a state. Constitutional rights would be of little value when the right is indirectly denied. Initiatives like referendum and recall elections are used in the political process of the U.S. as an extension of democracy. Initiatives are ways of allowing citizens to initiate changes within the U.S. political structure.
[i] Cofield v. Farrell, 38 Okla. 608, 613 (Okla. 1913).
[ii] State ex rel. Griffin v. Superior Court of Chehalis County, 70 Wash. 545, 547 (Wash. 1912).
[iii] Lively v. Brown, 304 Ky. 850, 852 (Ky. 1947).
[iv] Elmore v. Rice, 72 F. Supp. 516, 523 (D.S.C. 1947).