New Blog Series: The History of American Elections and Campaigns

“The County Election” painting by George Caleb Bingham, 1846. (Public Domain)

In keeping with the previous historical analyses published on this website, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum is pleased to announce its next major blog series! This new series will discuss the evolution of elections and campaigns throughout the history of the United States. As is the case with the other historical blogs on this website, these posts are designed for both general reading, as well as supplementary material for educators to use in their lectures on history, politics, and government. The posts will be divided into several time frames. Each segment will go into detail regarding the prominent methods of campaigning at the time, as well as the key figures, campaigns, and major changes that emerged from them. 

In the United States, elections are divided into federal, state, and local levels. Elected officials at the local and state levels are determined by a popular vote in the town, city, county, or congressional district in which they are campaigning for. Meanwhile, the offices of president and vice president are determined by votes in the Electoral College. The Electoral College determines the number of electoral votes each state has by the total number of delegates the state has in Congress. This is calculated by a combination of the state’s total seats in the House of Representatives, as well as the two Senators each state always has. For each electoral vote, a corresponding elector is chosen by the states and the District of Columbia, producing a Certificate of Ascertainment to identify them. When the votes are tallied on Election Day, the electors are sent out to their assigned districts to observe the ballot tallies. Once all the votes are counted, the elector produces a Certificate of Vote for the candidate with the most votes. These certificates are then collected and transported to Congress, to which they are counted and a final decision is made. If a majority choice for president and vice president is not reached, a contingent election is held in Congress. The House of Representatives is tasked with electing the president, while the Senate selects the vice president. At the time of writing, there are a total of 535 electoral votes among the states, three of which belong to the District of Columbia, as granted by the Twenty-third Amendment.

To stay up to date with the latest posts in this series, please make sure to regularly check the Reagan Library Education Blog!

Written by Nicholas J. Dilley, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

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