Congressional Elections

The U.S. Constitution provides that the times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives is prescribed in each State by the state legislature[i].  However, the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.

Under the Elections clause, the states are given and in fact exercise wide discretion in the formulation of a system for the election by the people of representatives in Congress[ii].

The Constitutional provision embraces authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections as to[iii]:

  • times and places,
  • notices,
  • registration,
  • supervision of voting,
  • protection of voters,
  • prevention of fraud and corrupt practices,
  • counting of votes,
  • duties of inspectors and canvassers, and
  • making and publication of election returns.

Thus, the power of the states to prescribe the times, places, and manner for electing federal representatives encompasses nearly every procedural facet of a federal election.  The Elections clause grants to the States broad power to prescribe the procedural mechanisms for holding congressional elections[iv].

In exercising power, the Congress may supplement the state regulations or may substitute them with its own[v].  It may impose additional penalties for the violation of the state laws or provide independent sanctions.  It has a general supervisory power over the whole subject.

When the federal statutes speak of the election of a Senator or Representative, they plainly refer to the combined actions of voters and officials meant to make a final selection of an officeholder[vi].

[i] USCS Const. Art. I, § 4, Cl 1.

[ii] Millsaps v. Thompson, 259 F.3d 535 (6th Cir. Tenn. 2001).

[iii] Association of Community Orgs. for Reform Now v. Miller, 129 F.3d 833 (6th Cir. Mich. 1997).

[iv] Cook v. Gralike, 531 U.S. 510 (U.S. 2001).

[v] Smiley v. Holm, 285 U.S. 355 (U.S. 1932).

[vi] Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67 (U.S. 1997).


Inside Congressional Elections