Citizen’s Guide to Understanding Federal Elections

As the 2012 election cycle moves toward full swing, citizens can expect heated political debate and controversies. Almost inevitably some of the hot button issues will involve candidate qualifications, campaign finance, electioneering, convention practices, and vote counting.

Here are some key documents for citizens navigating the election process.

FEC Laws, Regulations, Reports

The Federal Election Commission has authority over the campaign process, including financing. Its website describes laws and regulations applicable to federal political campaigns.

The FEC website is also where you can find compliance reports filed by candidates, parties and political action committees. These disclosures indicate who is providing financial support to candidates and how much.

A section of the website called “Quick Answers to Candidates Questions” provides an overview of forms that candidates must file. It also provides answers to fundamental questions like how a candidate gets his name on the ballot.

Information about state primary dates and filing deadlines is also available on the FEC website. To date, the dates posted for the 2012 primaries are preliminary and subject to change.

The FEC website explains federal electioneering rules, and its database includes compliance reports.

Party Rules

Each of the major political parties has its own set of rules governing electors, conventions, and other issues. The Rules of the Republican Party and the Democratic National Committee Delegate Selection Rules describe how each party runs its political conventions and provides support to candidates, among other topics.

All About the Electoral College

The United States Archives Office of the Federal Register is charged with oversight of the Electoral College. Its website contains all the information needed to understand the constitutional underpinnings of the Electoral College and the functional aspects of its operation.

Constitutional Qualifications for Election to Federal Office

The United States Constitution sets forth basic qualifications for federal office. Article II, Section 1 lays out the presidential qualifications; Article I, Section 2 contains the qualifications for a representative; and Article I, Section 3 describes the qualifications for a senator.

State Election Authorities

Each state has its own authorities responsible for election oversight. The FEC website contains a link to each state’s election authorities under the heading “state disclosure offices.” The entries describe each office with responsibility for overseeing any aspect of the election process and specifies which ones handle which issues.

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