Power Vote! An Introduction to Civic Engagement

This page was last edited on 31 July 2019, at 04:45.

Since 2000, the AAPI community which now includes over 14.6 million people has grown over 23% making it the fastest growing racial group in the country. As the population grows, so does its electoral power if fully realized. In the 2000 elections, 5.4 million AAPIs were eligible to vote and slightly more than 2 million actually voted. In the U.S., 80% of elections are won by a margin of 5% or less. In this context, the AAPI voting bloc can be a critical and determining factor.


The Korean American community follows the trend of the AAPI community in its growth and electoral potential. The population of eligible Korean American voters is also increasing steadily - those who are citizens and 18 years and older numbered 461,059 nationally in 2000. Since 2000, the Korean American population has increased 54% across the country and currently there are 482,225 Korean American voters nation-wide. Significant barriers to political participation are language access and familiarity with the electoral process. With that in mind, this guide - Power Vote! An Introduction to Civic Engagement - is designed to walk first time voters, young and old, through the entire electoral process and includes important sections on how our government works and the history of voting rights in America.

1 A Time to Participate Fully

Americans from all walks of life --- young and old, working families and immigrants, Korean Americans, Latinos and African Americans --- understand intimately that we as a community and nation are living in a defining political moment. Never before in our lifetime has it seemed so urgently necessary for our communities to participate. We are at a turning point --- from the prolonged war in Iraq to the broken immigration system --- and policies that chart the course of our everyday lives are at stake. A better America will not come simply by the outcome of the 2008 elections but by how we as a people come together. Can we stand by the belief that prosperity must be shared by all that live in this country? Can we stand true to upholding cherished values of justice, equality and fairness for all?

Issues that have been emerged during the presidential elections such as immigration reform, universal healthcare, quality public education, war in Iraq, affordable housing, good jobs, and a strong economy are the same issues that Korean Americans and AAPIs care about. But, the impact is different and the 2008 elections is an opportunity to promote policies that will benefit all communities. 2008 is our year to mobilize and act. Towards this end, NAKASEC has launched its 2008 "Power Vote” campaign because our vote is our power.

2 How Our Government Works

The United States government is divided into three main branches: the Executive Branch (The President), the Legislative Branch (Congress), and the Judicial Branch (Federal Courts). The U.S. government is a system of “checks and balances” – each branch can check each other and the powers are balanced so that not one branch holds more absolute power than any other.

2.1 The Executive Branch

Once elected, the President presides over the Executive Branch for the presidential term of four years and may serve a total of two terms only. As stated in the Constitution, the President holds the roles of chief of state, chief of executive, commander in chief of the armed forces, chief diplomat, and chief legislator. The president also holds important legislative and judicial powers.

The Vice-President is given the right to succeed the president in the case the president can no longer perform her or his duties. The vice-president is also the presiding officer of the Senate without voting power unless there is a tie. And if both the president and the vice president vacate their offices, the speaker of the House assumes the presidency.

There are 15 executive departments. The heads of the departments, which are appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, form a council of advisors generally known as the Cabinet. Each head of the department is referred to as “Secretary” (e.g. Secretary of State). The head of the department of justice alone is referred to as “Attorney General.”

2.2 The Legislative Branch

Article 1 of the Constitution grants all legislative powers of the federal government to a Congress divided into two chambers - a Senate and a House of Representatives. The Senate is composed of two members from each state as provided by the Constitution. Membership in the House is based on the population of the state, therefore the size of the House is not specified in the Constitution.

The reason why the Congress is divided into two chambers is that the delegates to the Constitutional Convention reasoned that if two separate groups must both approve every proposed law, there would be little danger of the Congress passing laws hurriedly or carelessly. That way, one chamber representing state governments and the other chamber representing the people can always check each other.

Each state is entitled to two senators no matter the population or size of the state they represent. Since there are 50 states, there are 100 senators. The senatorial term is six years and there are no limits to how many terms a Senator may serve. Senate terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the Senate seats are up for election every two years – this ensures that no state has both Senate seats contested in the same election.

The members of the House are determined by the population or size of the state they represent. Currently there are 435 members in the House of Representatives and their term is two years. State legislators divide their state into congressional districts, which must be equal in population. The Speaker of the House is elected by the members of the House.

Each chamber of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except revenue bills, which must originate in the House of Representatives. The Senate also has certain powers especially reserved to that body, including the authority to confirm the presidential nomination of high officials and ambassadors of the federal government as well as the authority to ratify all treaties by a two-thirds vote. Unfavorable action in either instance nullifies executive action.

Powers of Congress: The broad powers of Congress are outlined in the 8th section of the 1st article of the Constitution:

  • To levy and collect taxes
  • To borrow money for the public treasury
  • To make rules and regulations governing commerce among the states with foreign countries
  • To make uniform rules for the naturalization of foreign citizens
  • To coin money, state its value, and provide for the punishment of counterfeiters
  • To set the standards for weights and measures
  • To establish bankruptcy laws for the country as a whole
  • To establish post offices and post roads
  • To issue patents and copyrights
  • To set up a system of federal courts
  • To punish piracy
  • To declare war
  • To raise and support armies
  • To provide for a navy
  • To call out the militia to enforce federal laws, suppress lawlessness or repel invasions by foreign powers
  • To make all laws for the District of Columbia
  • To make all laws necessary to enforce the Constitution

2.3 How a Bill Becomes Law

Bills originating from the House are designated by an "H.R." followed by a number, while bills originating from the Senate are designated by an "S" followed by a number. A bill first appears in the appropriate full committee of either the House or the Senate. The bill is then transferred to a specialized subcommittee for study, hearings, revisions and approval. More hearings and revisions may occur as the full committee takes the bill up again. A full committee may approve a bill and recommend its passage. A proposed bill must be passed by both the House and the Senate before it is approved by the President. The debating process for a bill is similar in both the House and the Senate.

After both chambers have passed related bills, members from the House and the Senate form a conference committee to work out any differences. Compromised versions from the conference committee are sent to each chamber for final approval.

Compromised versions of the bill, once approved by both chambers, are sent to the president, who can sign it into law or veto it and return it to the Congress. The Congress may override a presidential veto by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers and the bill can then become law without the president’s signature, 10 days after it reaches the president’s desk. The single exception to this rule is when the Congress adjourns after sending a bill to the president, and before the 10 day-period has expired; the President’s refusal to take action then negates the bill during this period. This is called a “pocket veto.”

2.4 The Judicial Branch

The third branch of the government is largely responsible for the interpretation of the Constitution. It also consists of a system of courts spread throughout the country that is headed by the Supreme Court. Article III of the Constitution states the basis of the federal court system:

With this article as a guide, the first Congress divided the nation into districts and created federal courts for each district. The present structure has since evolved to consist of: the Supreme Court, 11 courts of appeals, 91 district courts, and three courts of special jurisdiction. The Congress today retains the power to create and abolish federal courts, as well as to determine the number of judges in the federal judiciary system. However, it does not have the ability to abolish the Supreme Court.

The judicial power extends to cases arising under the Constitution: laws and treaties of the United States, admiralty and maritime cases affecting ambassadors, ministers and consuls of foreign countries in the United States, controversies in which the U.S. government is a party, and controversies between states (or their citizens) and foreign nations (or citizens or subjects). The power of the federal courts also extends both to civil actions for damages and other redress, as well as to criminal cases arising under federal law.

The Constitution safeguards judicial independence by providing that federal judges shall hold office “during good behavior.” In practice, they can hold their position until they die, retire, or resign, although a judge who commits an offense while in office may be impeached the same way as the president or other officials of the federal government. U.S. federal judges are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Congress determines the pay scale of the judges.

If you would like more information on the Judicial Branch, please visit the U.S. Courts website at http://www.uscourts.gov.

2.4.1 The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest court of the United States and its decisions cannot be appealed to any other court. The Congress has the power to fix the number of judges sitting on the Supreme Court and within limits, it can also decide what kinds of cases it may hear, but it cannot change the powers given to the Supreme Court by the Constitution.

Supreme Court justices are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Justices do not have term limits; their service is terminated at death, resignation, retirement, or conviction on impeachment.

In general, there is one chief justice and eight associates in the Supreme Court. The chief justice is the executive officer of the Supreme Court, but in deciding cases, has only one vote, similarly to the associate judges. Of the several thousand cases filed annually, the Supreme Court usually hears about 150. Most of the cases involve interpretation of the law or the intent of the Congress in passing a piece of legislation.

Decisions of the Supreme Court do not have to be unanimous, for the majority prevails, provided that at least six justices (the legal quorum) participate in the decision. In the case of split decisions, the Supreme Court usually issues a majority and a minority (dissenting) opinion, both of which may form the basis of future decisions by the Supreme Court.

2.4.2 Court of Appeals and District Courts

The second highest level of the federal courts is the court of appeals, created to facilitate the disposition of cases and ease the burden of the Supreme Court. These courts review the decisions of the district courts (trial courts with federal jurisdiction) within their areas. Below the court of appeals are the district courts. Most cases and controversies heard by these courts involve federal offenses.

The following is a list of the District courts:

  • 1st district: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island
  • 2nd district: New York, Vermont
  • 3rd district: Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands
  • 4th district: Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
  • 5th district: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas
  • 6th district: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee
  • 7th district: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin
  • 8th district: Alaska, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota
  • 9th district: Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada,
  • Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Washington
  • 10th district: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, Wyoming
  • 11th district: Alabama, Florida, Georgia

3 Federal Budget

The Federal Budget is a plan for how the government will spend the American people’s money – to determine which activities are to be funded and how much goes into each of the departments and committees as well as the federal programs. It is also a plan for how the government will pay for its activities and how the government will borrow.

The Federal Budget for the fiscal year of 2008 can be broken down as follows:

3.1 Major Steps in the Budget Process (Sample year: February 2008 to November 2010)

3.2 2005-06 Budget

President George W Bush submitted a 2.57 trillion dollar 2006 fiscal year budget to Congress. Defense increased by 4.8% to 419 billion, of which 4 million is for research of "bunker buster nuclear weapon" meant to destroy underground targets. This weapon was researched since 2003 but congress denied it any funding in 2005 because of the controversy that it was against the international nonproliferation efforts.

A characteristic is the disinvestment in the Missile Defense (MD) system, and the reinforcement of low intensity warfare such as the war on terror, with an emphasis in strengtheninng special ops equipped with modern mobility-based weaponery. US Army is to reduce its legal forces to 482,400 by 2007, but current forces are approximately 500,000 because of the needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, has suggested the need to legally increase the army to 512,000.

But the new budget does not reflect the war costs in Iraq and Afghanista, estimated to be around 80 billion, nor the new social security system costs.

Main budget items

$ Billion Changes
Defense $ 419.3 + 5%
Transportation $ 57.5 - 1%
Agriculture $ 19.4 - 10%
Veterans $ 33.4 + 3%
Health & Human Services $ 67.2 - 1%

4 The Right to Vote

It has been a short 43 years since minorities gained the right to vote in the United States. Throughout American history, minorities including AAPIs and immigrants have sought to gain full and equal voting rights as U.S. citizens. Civil right activists fought to abolish unfair discrimination through mass mobilization and education campaigns for more than a century. As a result of such struggles waged, landmark legislation such as the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were passed. In the case of the immigrant population, legislation such as the Walter-McCarran Act otherwise known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which made all races eligible for naturalization, are also significant. Below are some of the significant events and achievements.

4.1 History of Voting Rights

1789 Article I, Section 4States were given the right to create their own election regulations as long as they did not violate the Constitution and federal law.
1868 14th AmendmentThis landmark amendment granted federal power over the states to ensure that certain states were not restricting the voting rights of ethnic minorities, specifically African Americans. This law also granted citizenship to all males born in the United States, regardless of ethnicity.
1870 15th AmendmentVoting rights to African American men were protected against any discriminating acts or state laws. This amendment was created in order to protect individual voting rights in the South after the civil war. After the Reconstruction era (1865-1877), however, this amendment was effective in paper only.
1920 19th AmendmentWomen gained the right to vote and the right to participate in politics.
1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965This comprehensive and historic Act was created to protect the voting rights from any form of discrimination. Any form of Congressional district adjustment that sought to dilute the voting power of minority voters was prohibited. Voter assistance was granted to disabled or illiterate voters, and, when necessary, bilingual voting materials including voter registration forms and ballots were required for limited English proficient voters that represent an ethnicity whose population makes up 5% or 10,000 of a polling district, whichever is greater.

Any action that sought to test voter eligibility was prohibited in all federal, state, and county elections. All voters were granted the right to vote by absentee ballot. Voting rights for citizens who were 21 years and older was also guaranteed.

1971 26th Amendment The minimum voting age was lowered to 18.
1975 Section 203 and Section 4(f)4Temporary provisions were added to the VRA to ensure that citizens with Limited English Proficient have equal opportunity to register, learn about the election, and cast their ballot. Section 203 and Section 4(f)4 requires jurisdictions to provide translated election materials or bilingual poll workers if the number of the citizen voting age population of a single language minority is at least 10,000 or make up at least 5% of all voting age citizens and if the illiteracy rate of the group is higher than the national illiteracy rate.
1984 Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped ActPolling places are required to provide necessary facilities to assist disabled and elderly voters.
2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA)New voting requirements, minimum voting standards and new federal programs and with regard to immigrant and minority voting populations, new identification requirements, the strengthening of language access, and creation of new provisional ballot requirements.
2006 Reauthorization of Sections 5, 6-9, and 203 of the Voting Rights ActThe House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 to reauthorize for 25 years the temporary provisions of the VRA. Section 5 requires jurisdictions in 16 states to receive preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes to election laws. Sections 6-9 authorizes the Department of Justice to appoint an examiner and send observers to polls to deter, witness, and report discriminatory activities at the polls in any jurisdiction covered by Section 5. Section 203 requires certain jurisdictions to make language assistance available at polling locations for citizens with limited English proficiency. These provisions apply to four language groups: Americans Indians, Asian Americans, Alaskan Natives, and those of Spanish heritage. A community with one of these language groups will qualify for language assistance if (1) more than 5% of the voting-age citizens in a jurisdiction belong to a single language minority community and have limited English proficiency (LEP); OR (2) more than 10,000 voting-age citizens in a jurisdiction belong to a single language minority community and are LEP; AND (3) the illiteracy rate of the citizens in the language minority is higher than the national illiteracy rate.

4.2 Help America Vote Act (HAVA)

In December 2002, U.S. Congress passed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which will make significant changes to voting across the country. Specifically, there are six key components.

A. New Voting Requirements

All states must provide voters with:

  • Opportunities to cast provisional ballots;
  • Access for persons with disabilities;
  • Voting information, such as sample ballots, voting instructions, and a statement of voter’s rights;
  • Opportunities for voters to verify their selections, correct any errors, and notice if they over vote (i.e., vote for more than one candidate for a single office) before they cast their ballots; and
  • Procedures to make complaints when voting problems arise.

B. Minimum Voting Standards

States must:

  • Require identification and verify new voters;
  • Create new statewide computerized voter lists;
  • Eliminate punch card voting systems;
  • Train poll workers in the law’s new requirements; and
  • Include check-off boxes for U.S. citizenship and being 18 years of age on all mail-in voter registration forms.

C. New Federal Programs HAVA allows for the creation of:

  • A new federal Election Assistance Commission to study problems and make recommendations for improvements;
  • Establishes federal programs to expand poll worker recruitment; and
  • Provides federal money for states to implement HAVA’s new provisions and to improve the administration of elections.

D. New Identification Requirements

• Verification of All New Voters

HAVA requires that all new voters provide their drivers’ license numbers or the last four digits of their Social Security numbers for verification of their names and dates of birth. For voters who do not have these, the state will assign unique numbers to identify those individuals.

• ID of New Voters who Register by Mail

HAVA requires all new voters who register by mail to present either a “current and valid photo identification; or …a utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.” A copy can be included with their mailed-in voter registration form or presented in person when they come to the polls. This is not required if voters submit either their drivers’ license numbers or the last four digits of Social Security numbers, and their names and dates of birth match.

E. Strengthen Language Access

Mandatory language assistance in HAVA refers to the Language Assistance Provisions (Section 203) of the Voting Rights Act. HAVA does not expand the languages or jurisdictions already covered under the Voting Rights Act, however state implementation could address some of the deficiencies.

HAVA requires states to create grievance procedures and an “appropriate remedy” for voters whose rights have been violated. Since HAVA incorporates Section 203 for the Voting Rights Act, it could provide recourse for voters who are denied language assistance.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has the responsibility of monitoring coverage compliance, including requiring covered jurisdictios to provide translated written materials (such as voter registration forms, ballots, and voting instructions), oral assistance such as interpreters and bilingual poll workers, and publicity regarding the elections and availability of bilingual assistance, such as signs at polling sites and announcements in community media.

Today, language assistance is afforded to voters of the following descents: Hispanic, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, American Indian, and Native Alaskan. As of July 22, 2002, the most current coverage calculation until 2010, 369 jurisdictions were covered under Section 203 - 222 jurisdictions required to provide Spanish assistance and about 149 required to provide assistance to Asian American and Pacific Islanders , Alaskan Natives, or Native Americans.

Lastly, HAVA requires accessibility for voters with disabilities. In counties covered under the Voting Rights Act, voting machines for the disabled must also be able to accommodate Limited English Proficient disabled voters. Anything written or displayed in English must also be displayed in the required minority languages. Audio voting for the blind must be multilingual. This may greatly help senior citizens, who in some states have complained that the Asian language characters on the ballots are too small to read.

F. New Provisional Ballot Requirements

Many Asian Americans have not been allowed to vote because their names were missing from the list of registered voters. Occasionally, their first names and surnames were simply inverted in the voter rolls. HAVA requires that provisional ballots be offered to voters who believe they are registered, but some deficiency prevents them from voting. If their names do not appear on the list of registered voters on Election Day, voters can still cast provisional ballots. Afterwards, if those voters are eligible to vote, their ballots must be counted.

4.3 Challenges to Voter Enfranchisement: New Photo ID Laws

In recent years, many states have taken the initiative and adopted new identification policies on Election Day. Currently, 23 states plus D.C. require first-time voters who registered by mail to show identification at the polls, every voter is required to show ID in 18 states, and every voter is required to show a photo ID in three states – Florida, Georgia, and Indiana (please refer to Appendix D for the full list of states with ID laws).

The recent trend of states passing laws that require voters to show ID will result in the disenfranchisement ofspecific sub-populations of U.S. citizens. In states where voters are required to present an ID at the polls, 2.7 percent are less likely to vote than in states where voters are merely required to state their names. And for states that require a photo ID, as many as 11 percent of Americans – more than 21 million individuals – who do not have a current, government-issued photo ID, will be disenfranchised at the polls, many of them elderly, poor, and minority Americans. Polling results suggest six million elderly Americans do not possess a government-issued photo ID, 15 percent of voting-age citizens earning under $35,000 a year do not possess a photo ID, and 25 percent of voting-age African Americans do not possess photo ID. For those who do not have a photo ID, obtaining one is a serious obstacle. As many as 13 million U.S. citizens (7 percent) do not have ready access to citizenship documents, making it extremely difficult to obtain a photo ID.

5 How to Vote

Eligible voters must be American citizens, at least 18 years of age and qualified according to the specific voting standards of the state, county or city that the voter resides. For example, some states deny the right to vote to individuals who have been convicted of certain crimes or who have mental disorders/illnesses

5.1 Registration

Any U.S. citizen over the age of 18 can register in the state they are currently residing with the exception of North Dakota, which does not require any form of voter registration. There is a registration deadline that is normally 30 days before an election for most states. There are nine states that have some form of election day registration: Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Most states also accept registration by mail. The registration form can be picked up from your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), state election office, or it may be printed off the internet. After it is completely filled out it can be mailed or dropped in person. There are slightly different requirements for a few states so please be sure to check your state’s registration rules.

5.2 Different Ways of Voting

Absentee Voting: Absentee voting was established for those who were not going to be in the city and state of their residence on Election Day and would like to vote. The two main reasons a voter will request an absentee ballot is:

  1. You will be away from your home voting precinct on Election Day
  2. You cannot go to the local polling site because of:
    • School (college or university student who will be living away from home temporarily)
    • Military service
    • Travel plans that will keep you away from voting on Election Day
    • Religious reasons
    • Age (70 or older)
    • Illness
    • Handicap or physical disability
    • Jury Duty
    • Service as an election official/ poll worker/ volunteer

Even though you are registered to vote, you must request an absentee ballot if you cannot vote on Election Day. Like many other registration provisions, to apply for an absentee ballot, each state will have their own rules on absentee voting registration. While some states are strict on who is eligible to vote with an absentee ballot, other states are looser with their requirements so be sure to check with the state’s Secretary of State office or your local election office.

Paper Ballots: Voters privately mark the box next to the candidate they are voting for and drop the ballot in a sealed box. While it is inexpensive and easy to use, counting and recounting is a slow process. For this year’s November elections, many states are expected to use paper ballots; with the 2000 controversy in Florida’s recount and numerous cases of malfunctioned electronic touch-screen voting systems in 2004 and 2006, paper ballots are making a big comeback. At least 55 percent of American voters will vote using paper ballots that will then be read and tabulated by optical scanning devices, nearly double the percentage in 2000.

Marksense or Optical Scan: Voters fill in either a blank, oval-shaped spot next to or a gap next to an arrow pointing to the name of their candidate of choice. The ballot is then placed in a sealed box or fed through a computer at the polling site which will read the darkest and most complete marks and reject ballots marked twice.

Mechanical Lever Machines: Once the voter steps in to the voting machine, a large lever is pulled which closes the privacy curtain and prepares the machine for the vote. When voting, there are little levers assigned to each name of a particular candidate or issue. To indicate their choices, the voters pull on the lever corresponding to candidate names or issues to be voted on. There is an interlock that prevent the voter from voting on more choices than permitted. Upon completion, the large lever is pulled back, recording the vote and opening the curtain.

Punch cards: The voter is given a voting punch card and an envelope to place the ballot in when finished. At the polling site there are voting stations with walls or dividers that will prevent others from seeing how you voted. When in the voting station, a voting card is slipped inside the holder. The names of the candidates will be shown as the ballot is attached to the holder. As the pages are flipped on the ballot the names of the candidates will match up with the little boxes printed on the punch card. When ready to vote, the voter uses a little metal tool to punch out the square next to the candidate’s name. Before putting the ballot into the envelope, the voter should make sure that the small pieces of paper are completely punched out.

Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) or “Touch Screen” Voting: Unlike the previously described methods, in which ballots were tangible and markable, DRE voting is done completely on a computer where the ballot appears on a monitor. To vote you simply touch the name of the candidate on the screen and your vote is recorded. There are also alphabetic keys that allow write-in votes. After all selections are made, there will be another option to finalize your decisions. Once finalized, the entire ballot of votes is electronically recorded.

Every four years, the United States elects the President and Vice-President as the nation’s leaders who determine federal policies. The presidential electoral process is guided by the Constitution, each party’s platform, and political tradition. The president is elected, but technically, the people do not vote for the candidates directly. Instead, they select a committee of electors in each state that is equal to the number of Senators and House of Representatives that state has in Congress. This committee of electors is called the Electoral College. To win the presidency, the candidate must receive 270 electoral votes.

6 Presidential Elections

Eligibility: In order to run for presidency, the person must be native-born U.S. citizen, at least 35 years of age, and have at least 14 years of residency in the United States. There are similar requirements for the vice-president.

Presidential Election: 4-Step Process

Nomination Process: In order to win your party’s presidential nomination, you must first survive 50 state primaries or caucuses. From January to June of an election year, states hold their primaries or caucuses to select the candidates of each party for the November elections. The difference between a primary and caucus is that in a primary, voters select party candidates by popular vote while in a caucus candidates are selected from a closed meeting of party members. There are also closed or open primaries. In a closed primary, only voters registered to that specific party may vote in that party’s primary elections; meanwhile, in an open primary, voters may vote on their candidate of choice, regardless of their party affiliation.

At each state primary or caucus, delegates of that state are pledging their vote for a specific candidate in response to their states’ popular demand. There are 2 types of delegates – pledged or unpledged (also referred to as “superdelegates” by the Democratic Party. Pledged delegates are often party activists, local political leaders, or early supporters of a given candidate who are elected by voters; pledged delegates pledge their support for a certain candidate. Superdelegates are usually members of Congress, governors, former Presidents, and other party leaders and are not required to declare their support for a specific candidate.

National Conventions: When the state primaries and caucuses end, each party has a very good idea of who its presidential nominee will be for the November 4th elections because (super)delegates of each state have been pledging their support for a specific candidate. Before the national convention takes place, it is possible that a candidate has already the required number of pledged delegates needed to win the party’s nomination.

In the Democratic Party, there are 4,234 delegates, including pledged and unpledged. A candidate needs to win at least 2,118 total delegates at the Democratic National Convention to receive the Democratic nomination.

The Republican Party has “pledged” and “unpledged” delegates. Of the total 2,380 Republican delegates, 1,719 are pledged delegates who are elected at the state or local level. To become the Republican Party nominee, the candidate must win a simple majority of 1,191 of the 2,380 total delegates at the Republican National Convention

Since 1952, the national conventions of the two major political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, have been held in July or August. Besides formally nominating the party’s presidential nominee, the national conventions are when party members approve the party’s platform

General Elections: The general election day set by the Federal Election Commission is the first Tuesday of November. On Election Day, voters select their choice for president and vice-president. It is not a direct election however; voters are voting for electors assigned to each presidential and vice-presidential candidate and these electors make up the Electoral College.

Electoral Vote: The Electoral College is comprised of electors from all fifty states, plus the District of Columbia. Each state has the same number of electors as it has Senators and Representatives. 48 states have a “winner-take-all” system which means that if the popular vote of a state goes to a specific candidate, the electors of that state will vote for that candidate. Among the 48 states, 27 states have laws that require an elector to vote according to popular vote or pledges made to a party. Maine and Nebraska are the only states that have a “direct system” in which two electors’ votes of each state are made based on the candidate who received the most votes statewide; the remaining electoral votes go by congressional districts, awarding the vote to the candidate who received the most votes in each district.

Electors meet in their respective state capitals (or in the case of Washington, D.C., within the District) on the third Wednesday in December, at which time they cast their electoral votes for President and Vice President. The president/vice-president team that receives at least 270 out of 538 votes wins the election and becomes the next president and vice president of the United States.

If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most electoral votes. Each state has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.

Inauguration: The presidential term of four years begins on January 20 following the November election. The president begins her or his duties during the inauguration ceremony when the president also delivers the inaugural address which outlines the president’s policies and plans.

7 Campaign Finance

The public has primarily supported the Presidential Election Campaign Fund since 1976. Public funds are spent for presidential election processes such as the nomination process, the national convention, and the general election. This fund is administered by the Presidential Election Campaign Fund of the U. S. Treasury, which receives funds from taxpayers that voluntarily contribute funds through their federal income tax returns. These funds are available to eligible candidates and the major political parties holding national conventions. The presidential election candidates and parties must follow the spending limit required by the law and the federal election rules.

7.1 Campaign Contributions

The federal campaign law limits the maximum amount of contributions to federal candidates and committees. The contributor and the committee to which the contribution is given are both legally responsible for ensuring that they abide by all the necessary legal guidelines and follow the contribution process set by law.

On November 6, 2002, a new set of campaign finance laws went into effect. Known as the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), the law increased the contribution limits for individuals giving to federal candidates and political parties.

7.2 Contribution Limits: Individual Contributions

  • $2,300 per election to a federal candidate or the candidate’s campaign committee. Note that this limit applies separately to each election. For example, general elections, primaries, and runoffs are considered separate elections.
  • $10,000 per calendar year to any political action committee (PAC, state/local party, or other political committee.
  • $28,500 per calendar year to any national party committee.
  • $108,200 total biennial limit – total contributions by an individual cannot exceed this biennial limit where:
    • $42,700 per cycle to candidates
    • $65,500 per cycle to all national party committees and PACs
  • $100 in currency (cash) to any political committee. $50 maximum for anonymous cash contributions. Contributions exceeding $100 must be made by check, money order or other written instruments.

7.3 Contribution Limits: Joint Contributions

In case where two or more individuals wish to donate using one check drawn on a joint account, all the contributors must sign the check or an attached statement. The check or signed statement may show how much should be attributed to each donor; if not, the contribution is equally divided among the contributors. When a husband and wife make a joint contribution, each have separate contribution limits even if only one spouse earns an income. For instance, a couple can contribute a $5,000 check ($2,500 attributed to each individual) to a candidate’s primary campaign, if both sign the check.

7.4 Political Action Committees (PACs)

A PAC is an independent political committee organized around specific issues and contribute money to a political candidate. The PAC was first created in 1944 by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) who through their PAC contributed money to pro-union candidates for office and to get around the Smith-Connally Act, which banned direct union contributions to candidates. Business groups then began to create PACs in the 1960s and 1970s to counter the strength of the union PACs.

In the 1980s Members of Congress began creating Leadership PACs to distribute money to members of their party with the intent of gaining clout within the party. By 1994 at least 38 Members of Congress had Leadership PACs. Today, there are hundreds of Congress-members with Leadership PACs.

PACs are required to file with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) within 10 days of forming. Campaign finance restrictions allow PACs to give up to $5,000 to a candidate committee per election (primary, general or special); give up to $15,000 annually to any national party committee, and $5,000 annually to any other PAC. PACs may receive up to $5,000 from any one individual, PAC or party committee per calendar year. There are no restrictions, however, on the amounts PACs can spend on advertising in support of candidates or in promotion of their agendas or beliefs.

Most PACs are directly connected to specific corporations, labor groups, or recognized political parties. Examples of these PACs include Microsoft (a corporate PAC) and the Teamsters Union (organized labor). These PACs may solicit contributions from their employees or members and make contributions in the PACs name to candidates or political parties.

PACs are increasingly becoming a significant influence on the campaign trail and today number in the thousands. The FEC reported that PACs raised $629.3 million, spent $514.9 million, and contributed $205.1 million to federal candidates from January 1, 2003 through June 30, 2004.

7.5 Prohibited Contributions

The following contributions are prohibited: • Foreign nationals. However this does not include foreign citizens with legal permanent residency status. • Federal government contractors, including consultants under contract with the federal government or sole proprietor of a business with a federal government contract. They may not make contributions from business or personal funds; • Corporations, unions, including any incorporated organization, profit or non-profit; • Contributions in the name of another; and • Contributions exceeding the law’s limit. • Cash in amounts over $100

7.6 Other Forms of Contribution

Most people regard contributions as donations of checks and currency. However, anything of value given to influence a federal election is considered a contribution and is counted against the annual $28,500 limit and the separate committee limits. Some examples include the following:

  • Donated items as services (office machines, furniture, and other goods, including discounts)
  • Tickets or items bought in a fundraiser
  • Loans or loan endorsements
  • Support given to “test the waters”

8 Political Parties

Throughout the political history of the United States, two major parties have dominated the federal and state governments: the Democratic and Republican Parties. While third parties in the United States have never won the presidency and have fewer representatives in Congress than the two major parties, they are essential in shaping policies and diversifying the political dialogue in the U.S. For example, both the Prohibition and Socialist Parties promoted women’s suffrage during the late 1800’s. The Republicans and Democrats supported it in 1916 and by 1920 the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. The Socialist Party first advocated laws establishing minimum-age and limiting hours of work for American children in 1904. In 1916 the Keating-Owen Act was passed that established such laws.

While there has never been a third-party President, third-party presidential candidates have had significant moments on presidential races. For example, in 1992 billionaire businessman H. Ross Perot drew almost 19 percent of the popular vote, the highest percentage for a third-party presidential candidate since Theodore Roosevelt’s run in 1912. And in 2000, Green party presidential candidate Ralph Nader captured nearly 3 percent of the national popular vote and more than 97,000 votes in the key state of Florida.

In the current 110th Congress, there are 49 Democratic Senators, 49 Republican Senators, 1 Independent Senator and 1 Independent Democrat Senator in the 100-member Congress. In the House of Representatives, there are currently 235 Democratic Representatives and 199 Republican Representatives.

Below are the breakdowns of the five major political parties:

Constitution Party: Founded in 1992 as the U.S. Tax Payers Party, the name was changed to the Constitution Party in 1999. The Constitution Party believes that America must be restored to its Biblical foundations and proclaims to be “the only party which is completely pro-life, pro-gun and in favor of a strong national defense.” Delegates to the 2008 Constitution Party National Convention held in Kansas City, Missouri on April 23-26 elected Dr. Chuck Baldwin as their 2008 Presidential Candidate.

Democratic Party: Founded in 1792, the formerly called Democratic-Republican Party became the Democratic Party in 1844. The Democratic Party agenda “emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights.” On August 25, 2008, the Democratic National Convention was held in Denver, Colorado and Senator of Illinois, Barack Obama, was announced the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate.

Green Party: The Green Party was formed in 2001 with the goal of helping existing state parties grow. Their platform ranges from protecting the environment to human rights and social justice. Part of their philosophy is encouraging an activist lifestyle and building support networks needed to run candidates for local office. There are currently 220 Green Party officeholders around the country. Delegates to the Green Party National Convention held in Chicago on July 10-13 elected Cynthia McKinney as the president nominees.

Libertarian Party: The Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 and is the largest third party in the U.S.; they claim more than 200,000 registered voters across the country. The Libertarian Party believes that individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives; they support a laissez-faire government, free market, the repeal of the income tax and the abolishment of all federal programs and services not required under the U.S. Constitution like the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security. The Libertarian National Convention was held in Denver, Colorado May 22 – 26, 2008 and Bob Barr was elected as the Libertarian 2008 presidential nominee.

Republican Party: Officially formed in 1856, the Republican Party is founded on a conservative platform that believes in lower taxes and economic liberalism and social conservatism in social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion. The 2008 Republican National Convention was held on September 1 in St. Paul, Minneapolis. Senator of Arizona John McCain was announced the Republican Party’s presidential candidate.

9 Federal Congressional Elections

The Federal Congressional Election for the House and the Senate are held on the first Tuesday of November in even-numbered years. The terms for the members of the House are two years. The senatorial term is six years and every two years, one-third of the Senate stands for election. In this way, two-thirds of the senators have some legislative experience at the national level.

Senate: Individuals who are at least 30 years of age, citizens of the United States for at least nine years, and residents of the state from which they are elected are eligible to run for office in the Senate. Two senators are elected by each state directly by popular vote. Senators represent the entire state.

House: Members of the House must be at least 25 years of age, citizens for seven years, and residents of the states which send them to Congress. There are 435 members in the House. The results of the decennial Census determine the adjustment of Congressional districts. Like the Senate, House members are elected directly by popular vote.

10 National Directory of Organizations for Civic Engagement

The below organizations worked with NAKASEC to increase Asian Pacific Islander American civic engagement efforts in 2008.

Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)
1600 K Street, NW, Mezzanine Level Washington, D.C. 20006
Tel: (202) 393-3572
Asian & Pacific Islander American Vote - Michigan
Korean American working group
5105 Trumbull St, #2-N Detroit, MI 48208
Tel: (734) 751-9814
Center for Pan Asian Community Services (CPACS)
3760 Park Avenue Doraville, Georgia 30340
Tel: (770) 936-0969
Georgia Asian Pacific Islander Community Coalition (GAAPICC)
3760 Park Avenue Doraville, Georgia 30340
Tel: 770-936-0969 ext. 37
Korean American Resource and Cultural Center (KRCC)
6146 North Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL 60659
Tel: 773-588-9158
Korean Resource Center (KRC)
900 S. Crenshaw Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90019
Tel: 323-937-3718
Korean Women’s Association (KWA)
123 East 96th Street Tacoma, WA 98445
Toll Free 1-888-508-2780
Korean American Association of Houston
1418 Longhorn Dr. Houston, TX 77080
Tel: 713-984-2066
Korean American Citizens League
PO Box 3512 Portland, Oregon 97208-3512
Tel: 503-884-5607
Korean Community Service Center of Greater Washington (KCSC) - Virginia Office (Headquarters)
7700 Little River Tnpk. Suite 406 Annandale, VA 22003
Tel: 703-354-6345
Montgomery County Office
847-J Quince Orchard Blvd Gaithersburg, MD 20878
Tel: 240-683-6663
Prince George’s County Office
6410 Kenilworth Ave. Riverdale, MD 20737
Tel: 301-927-1601

For more information, please contact the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC)

11 Sources

12 Voter Registration Deadlines by State as of 2008

State Registration Deadlines for All Elections
Alabama 11 days before an election
Alaska 30 days before an election.
Arizona 29 days before an election.
Arkansas 30 days before an election.
California 15 days before an election.
Colorado 29 days before an election. If the application is received in the mail without a postmark, it must be received within 5 days of the close of registration.
Connecticut 1 day before an election.
Delaware 20 days before an election.
D.C. 30 days before an election.
Florida 29 days before an election.
Georgia The fifth Monday before a general primary, general election, or presidential preference primary. The fifth day after the date of the call for all other special primaries and special elections.
Hawaii 30 days before an election
Idaho Pre-registration 25 days before an election; allows same-day registration on Election Day.
Illinois 28 days before an election
Indiana 29 days before a general election; 28 days before primary election
Iowa Pre-registration by 5 pm 10 days before a state primary or general election; allows same day registration at the polls on Election Day
Kansas 15 days before an election or at caucus in person.
Kentucky 29 days before a general election; 28 days before a primary election.
Louisiana 30 days before an election.
Maine Allows same day voter registration at the polls on Election Day
Maryland By 9 pm 21 days before an election.
Massachusetts 20 days before an election.
Michigan 30 days before an election.
Minnesota Pre-registration 20 days before an election; allows same day registration at the polls on Election Day.
Mississippi 30 days before an election.
Missouri By 5 pm on the fourth Wednesday prior?to the?election
Montana Pre-registration 30 days prior to an election; allows same day registration at the polls on Election Day.
Nebraska The third Friday before an election or delivered by 6pm on the second Friday before an election.
Nevada 9pm on the fifth Sat. before any primary or general election. 9pm on the third Saturday before any recall or special election unless held on the same day as a primary or general election.
New Hampshire Voter mail-in registration form within 10 days before an election; allows same day registration at the polls on Election Day.
New Jersey 21 days before an election.
New Mexico 28 days before an election.
New York 25 days before an election.
North Carolina Pre-registration 25 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary election; allow same day registration at the polls on Election Day.
North Dakota No voter registration.
Ohio 30 days before an election.
Oklahoma 25 days before an election.
Oregon 21 days before an election.
Pennsylvania 30 days before an election.
Rhode Island 30 days before an election.
South Carolina 30 days before an election.
South Dakota 15 days before an election.
Tennessee 30 days before an election.
Texas 30 days before an election.
Utah 30 days before an election.
Vermont Delivered to the town clerk before 5 pm on the Wednesday before an election.
Virginia 29 days before an election.
Washington 30 days before an election; or delivered in-person up to 15 days before an election to the local voter registration office.
West Virginia 20 days before a general election and 21 days before a primary election
Wisconsin 20 days before an election (or completed in the local voter registration office up to 5:00 pm. 1 day before the election, or same day registration at the polls on Election Day).
Wyoming Same day registration at the polls on Election Day.

13 Regions that provide Language Assistance as of 2008

The following jurisdictions provide Asian American Pacific Islander language assistance under Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act:

13.1 2010

(Additions in bold)

Source: Bilingual Ballots and Language Assistance for Asian Americans (AALDEF)

State County District Language
Alaska Aleutians East Borough Tagalog
Alaska Aleutians West Census Area Tagalog
California Alameda Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese
Los Angeles Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Armenian, Hindi, Thai
Orange County Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese
Sacramento Chinese
San Diego Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese
San Francisco Chinese
San Mateo Chinese
Santa Clara Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese
Hawaii Honolulu Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese
Maui Tagalog
Illinois Cook Chinese, Hindi
Massachusetts Quincy City Chinese
Michigan Hamtramck city Bangladeshi
Nevada Clark Tagalog
New Jersey Bergen Korean
New York Kings (Brooklyn) Chinese
New York (Manhattan) Chinese
Queens Chinese, Korean, Hindi
Texas Harris Vietnamese, Chinese
Washington King Chinese, Vietnamese

13.2 2000

State County District Language
Alaska Kodiak Island Borough Tagalog
California Alameda Chinese
Los Angeles Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese
Orange County Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese
San Diego Tagalog
San Francisco Chinese
San Mateo Chinese
Santa Clara Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese
Hawaii Honolulu Chinese, Tagalog, Japanese
Maui Tagalog
Illinois Cook Chinese
New York Kings (Brooklyn) Chinese
Manhattan Chinese
Queens Chinese, Korean
Texas Harris Vietnamese
Washington King Chinese

14 Voter ID Laws by State as of 2008

Kansas, Pennsylvania
Photo or non-photo ID for every first-time voter
California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, D.C., West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming
First-time voter who registered by mail and did not show ID with application. Photo or non-photo ID accepted
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington
Every voter must show photo or non-photo ID
Florida, Georgia*, Indiana*
Every voter must show a photo ID. Voters without photo ID must cast a provisional ballot
Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, South Dakota
Every voter is asked to show a photo ID. Voters without photo ID may sign an affidavit and cast a regular ballot.
  • In Georgia and Indiana, voters of provisional ballots must return to election officials within a few days and show a photo ID in order for their ballots to be counted.