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Unit 5.1 – Why We Vote. Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote. -George Jean Nathan, 1932. Why Elections?. Accountability Forces voters to revisit decision made during incumbent’s term – retrospective.

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unit 5 1 why we vote

Unit 5.1 – Why We Vote

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.

-George Jean Nathan, 1932

why elections
Why Elections?


  • Forces voters to revisit decision made during incumbent’s term – retrospective.
  • Forces voters to decide on priorities, attitudes to future policy – aspirational.

Representing Constituencies

  • Incumbents vulnerable to primary or general challengers.

Public Information and Input

  • Even if incumbent wins, people have expressed opinions on issues.
  • Elections engage the media.
  • Elections link people to politicians, even if they haven’t voted or incumbents win.
types of elections
Types of Elections

Local + State Offices

  • Extremely low turnout, high incumbency
  • Unusual scheduling, low cost.
  • Governor’s races are different.

Congressional Representatives

  • Every two years, more often resign.
  • Lower turnout, lower interest, powerful incumbency.


  • Every six years, two classes of senators.
  • More expensive, but higher incumbency.


  • Highest level of turnout and interest.
  • Uses Electoral College system.
  • Term limits means more new candidates.
types of elections2
Types of Elections

Nationalized Elections

  • Often during presidential years, but can be during mid-terms. (2006, 2010)
  • Have much higher turnout.
  • Tend to result in higher turnover.

Normal Elections

  • Often at presidential mid-terms.
  • Include special elections, off-year.
  • Very low turnout and interest.
  • Very low turnover of incumbents.

Local Elections

  • Extremely low turnout most of the time.
  • Easy to sway results, but rarely results in much turnover.
  • Very sensitive to special constituencies.
how elections work
How Elections Work

Plurality / First Past The Post

  • Highest popular vote wins.
  • Does not require a majority.

Single Member Districts

  • Each race has one winner.
  • No area or constituency has more than one representative – except the Senate.
  • A few at-large districts

Two vs Three Stage Elections

  • Primary: selecting candidates.
  • General: candidate for office.
  • Recount: State laws for FPTP elections when popular vote is within 1%.
  • Runoff: Only in some states, used where full majority, not a plurality is required.
how elections work1
How Elections Work


  • Number of Congressional representatives per state is reapportioned every ten years.
  • Congressional lines are redistricted, or redrawn, by state legislature choices.
  • Gerrymandering is a problem here.


  • Each district is very different.
  • Party constituencies in each district are different from one another.
  • Do you represent your whole district or just your constituency?

Open Seats

  • Most elections are incumbent-challenger
  • Occasionaly there are new / open seats!
how elections work2
How Elections Work

In-Person Voting -- Varieties

  • Local precinct polling location.
  • Paper ballot – how easy to understand?
  • Electronic ballot – how secure are they?
  • Method and place of counting ballots.

Absentee Voting

  • For those living away from their voting address – allows an early vote by mail.
  • Ease varies a great deal by state.

Early and Special Voting

  • Early in-person voting
  • Early by-mail voting
  • Internet voting
who do we vote for
Who Do We Vote For

Party Identity

  • About 40-70% of voters register as or identify as members of each party.
  • Registration is not always an accurate predictor of how you will vote.

Swing Voters

  • 20-40% of voters identify Independent
  • Independents can still vote in a partisan way – more are conservative than not.

Single Issue and Partisan Voters

  • Single issue voters care about specific policy planks – often abortion, same sex marriage, and specific wars.
  • Do not act the same as partisans.
who do we vote for1
Who Do We Vote For

Ticket Splitting

  • Ability of voters to vote one party for one office, and another party on the same ballot for another office.
  • Increasingly common since the 1960s.
  • Especially important in state and local elections sharing a national ballot.


  • Most ballots don’t give this option automatically – must choose each one.
  • Low-info voters prefer this option.