The U.S. election process culminates with a general election in November.
The U.S. election process culminates with a general election in November.

The United States holds two very different kinds of elections: primary and general. Both are important in determining the will of the people. This process finds out who the people want to run for each party, and then which party's candidate they choose over the other party's candidate. The primary election is the party nomination part of the election and the general election is the vote for the office-holder.

Primary Election

A primary election is the process used by political parties to nominate their candidates to run in the general election. Each party has its own primary election to decide which of its candidates has the best chance of winning the general election over competing parties. Primary elections force party members to run against each other to gain nominations. In the United States, this means that Republicans run against other Republicans and Democrats run against other Democrats in primary elections.

In a primary election, you are only allowed to vote for one party's candidate. You cannot choose your favorite candidate in different parties if perhaps you want certain candidates to campaign against each other in the general election. In many states, you must be registered with a particular party to participate in a primary election.

General Election

The general election is the main election where the voters make their final decision on the winner. This vote is mostly between those individuals nominated by their party in the primary elections, but it also includes any independent candidates.

Nonpartisan Primaries

Primary elections are also used in nonpartisan races in an effort to narrow the number of candidates in the general election. This means that the same voters must vote for their candidate twice, first in the primary election and then in the general election. Just like in partisan races, if the candidate you voted for in the primary election does not succeed, you can vote for somebody else in the general election.

Presidential Election Dates

The general election for the U.S. presidential race is on Nov. 2 of the election year, which occurs once every four years. The next general election year is in 2012. Primary elections have many different dates before the general election. The Democrats and Republicans have different schedules for their party's primaries. The Democrats run primary elections from January to June and the Republicans from January to July. Primary results are determined well before the general election in November.