Unit 5 1 why we vote
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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.