Sunday, 31 August 2014

U.S. Mid-Term Elections, Part II: Choosing the Candidates

Sample ballots posted on Primary
Day, June 4, 2014, Harpswell ME
        If someone wants to run for office in Maine as a party candidate, they have to win the party's support. This doesn't mean convincing party officials they're the best man or woman for the job. It means the regular members of the party, the voters, have to choose them in a primary election to be the candidate.
         Imagine that John Jones and Mary Smith both want to run as the Democrat candidate for U.S. Congress. Both of them have to get on the primary election ballot. To do this, they have to find at least 1000 Democrat Party members who will sign a document called a "nominating petition." John and Mary, and their supporters, will go to  supermarkets, shopping centers and public events to ask for the signatures. They need to make sure the signatures are from registered Democrat voters who are legal residents of the voting district John and Mary want to represent.
          One thousand signatures isn't too hard. Let's say John and Mary both meet this goal. The office of the Secretary of the State of Maine verifies the signatures on the petition. Then both John's and Mary's names go on the Democrat primary ballot.
In Maine, only voters who are registered party members can vote in a party primary. Sometimes as many as six or eight people will try to win their party's nomination. Sometimes only one person seeks the nomination. For example, Governor LePage had no challenger for the Republican nomination for governor this year. It made no difference. He still had to get at least 2000 signatures--more than someone running for the U.S. House--to put his name on the primary ballot. Without going through the primary process, he could not compete in the general election as a Republican.
          On the first Tuesday in June, the primary election is held. By Wednesday, the political parties have their candidates. Usually, the losing primary candidates will "concede" and congratulate the winner. Then they offer their support to the winner in the general election.
          Independent candidates don't need to worry about a primary election. They just need to collect enough voter signatures to get their names on the ballot for the general election. An independent needs double the number of signatures that a party candidate needs.  Once an independent gets the signatures needed to be on the ballot,  the next thing challenge is to find money for the general campaign. There can be several independents running for the same office against the party candidates.
           Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage because once they are selected by the voters as the party candidate, the state party will use its money to support their campaign. Money may also come from interest groups and the national party. A LOT of money is being spent in 2014.
          The selection process varies from state to state but in all cases, the voters choose the person they want to run from their party. Voters decide based on the story the candidates tell about their background and the reasons why they say they want to be elected.
           These messages are equally important in the general election.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

US Mid-Term Elections, Part I: The Politics of August

August in Maine is always a busy time. It's the last month of summer vacation. It's the start of the harvest season. And every even-numbered year, it's campaign season. Congress is in recess. General elections will happen in November. In Maine, as in other parts of the U.S., August is prime time for raising money and looking for votes. The money is very important. Political campaigns cost a lot.
This August, the writer Stephen King  is out helping Mike Michaud raise money. Mr. Michaud is the Democrat candidate for governor.  King doesn't often speak at political events, but he is fiercely opposed to the policies of the present Republican governor, Paul LePage. After he spoke at an event in Portland ME, he signed books and let people be photographed with him. Both he and Mr. Michaud listened to ideas and concerns from the people who gave money to go to this event.
Novelist Stephen King talks about
why people should vote for Mike Michaud
to be governor of the State of Maine
Like most states, Maine has two major political parties: Democrat and Republican. The Green Party is also officially recognized in Maine. It is not unusual for Maine voters to elect an independent. An independent is someone who is not enrolled in one of the political parties. One of Maine's U.S. Senators is an independent: Senator Angus King (no relation to the writer).
This is an "off-year" or "mid-term" election. The US president is in the middle of his term ("mid-term"), so there is no presidential campaign (a year when the presidency is "off" the ballot). In some states, like Maine, the state governor is chosen in the off-year.
In general terms, Maine's governor holds his office for four years and can be re-elected one time for another four-year term.  In all U.S. states, the representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives must be chosen every two years. U.S. Senators hold office for six years, but only 1/3 of the Senate stands for election in any election year.
         You might think the political parties decide who will represent them in the elections. You'd only be partly right.