Election Day 2016. Under the United States Constitution, the manner of choosing electors for the Electoral College is determined by each state’s legislature. Although each state currently designates electors by popular vote, other methods are allowed. For instance, a number of states formerly chose presidential electors by a vote of the state legislature itself.
However, federal law does specify that all electors must be selected on the same day, which is “the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November,” i.e. a Tuesday no earlier than November 2 and no later than November 8. Today, the states and the District of Columbia each conduct their own popular elections on Election Day to help determine their respective slate of electors. Thus, the presidential election is really an amalgamation of separate and simultaneous state elections instead of a single national election run by the federal government.
Like any other election in the United States, the eligibility of an individual for voting is set out in the Constitution and regulated at state level. The Constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex or age for citizens eighteen years or older. Beyond these basic qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility.
Generally, voters are required to vote on a ballot where they select the candidate of their choice. The presidential ballot is a vote “for the electors of a candidate” meaning that the voter is not voting for the candidate, but endorsing a slate of electors pledged to vote for a specific Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate.
Many voting ballots allow a voter to “blanket vote” for all candidates in a particular political party or to select individual candidates on a line by line voting system. Which candidates appear on the voting ticket is determined through a legal process known as ballot access. Usually, the size of the candidate’s political party and the results of the major nomination conventions determine who is pre-listed on the presidential ballot. Thus, the presidential election ticket will not list every candidate running for President, but only those who have secured a major party nomination or whose size of their political party warrants having been formally listed. Laws are in effect to have other candidates pre-listed on a ticket, provided that enough voters have endorsed the candidate, usually through a signature list.
The final way to be elected for president is to have one’s name written in at the time of election as a write-in candidate. This is used for candidates who did not fulfill the legal requirements to be pre-listed on the voting ticket. It is also used by voters to express a distaste for the listed candidates, by writing in an alternative candidate for president such as Mickey Mouse or comedian Stephen Colbert (whose application was voted down by the South Carolina Democratic Party). In any event, a write-in candidate has never won an election for President of the United States.