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United States operates as an indirect or representative democracy meaning that a select group is elected by the whole to serve as representatives while attending to public matters. This is in contrast to a direct democracy which holds that all eligible members of a society can personally direct public affairs. This distinction is often overlooked by most Americans who believe that the term democracy has no qualifications.
In order to fully grasp American government, it is essential to understand the Framers of the Constitution referred to it as republic in form. Their intention was to have representatives direct government operations. In other words, voters select representatives who in turn carry out government business. The reasons for this procedure are manifold. Most notably, the Framers foresaw the electorate making poor decisions based on transitory emotions thereby leading the country in an unwise direction. Given such predispositions, the Framers felt that minority views were susceptible to repression, a circumstance running counter to liberty. Naturally, the Fathers of the United States emphatically opposed such infringement. Limitations on an electorate's time, interest, and expertise make participatory democracy impractical. Additionally, the Framers recognized the nation's size as a barrier to direct democracy.
Having said as much, it is logical that during the formative stages of the United States, the range of elective offices was restricted. Direct elections occurred for those positions in the House of Representatives. In contrast, Senatorial and Presidential officers were indirectly chosen by legislatures. Currently, Senators are elected by voters from their state while the electorate indirectly chooses the President by way of the Electoral College.
When discussing elective offices, it is important to address exactly who does the electing. The Framers, by explicitly stating it in the Constitution, gave the states domain over suffrage. Initially, eligible voters were white male landholders or taxpayers. Expansion of the electorate began in the 1800s when religious qualifications were abandoned. By mid-century property and tax qualifications had also disappeared. After the Civil War, with the adoption of the 15th Amendment, citizens could not be refused voting privileges because of race or color. More voters were subsequently included with passage of the 19th Amendment, which prohibited voting denials based on sex. The Civil Rights Acts encouraged more minority voters to participate. The 23rd Amendment granted suffrage rights to citizens of the District of Columbia while the 24th Amendment eliminated poll taxes. Finally, the 26th Amendment of 1971 proclaimed eighteen the minimum voting age. Interestingly, what began within the realm of the state has largely come under the jurisdiction of the Constitution.
Having outlined electorate development, one would expect more voter turnout than what actually exists. There are numerous reasons for nonvoting. Those besieged by illness or physical limitations constitute a portion of nonvoters. Unexpected travel, cumbersome election procedures, and informal discrimination negatively influence participation. Alienation, or a mistrust of political procedures, is another motive why some decline to vote. Some citizens fail to perceive political efficacy. Another cluster does not acknowledge a need to vote, as it believes government already handles affairs competently. Why change something that works? Despite all the abovementioned explanations, there exists a more prevalent one: apathy. The majority of nonvoters simply do not care about politicians or government matters; family, church, and work hold more importance than civic participation.
Several approaches can be taken to bolster voter turnout. Perhaps the most important and obvious solution is to register more voters. The motor-voter bill has attempted to serve such an end. Ultimately, however, it is the individual who determines his level of civic responsiveness.
Tension between national and state government has existed since the creation of this country. The idea of American federalism emerged from both experience and necessity. It was embedded in the struggle between the colonies and England. Colonial issues could never be effectively and efficiently addressed by a remote authority, namely the Crown. Federalism developed out of necessity as prominent colonists recognized a need for some centralized control while maintaining the integrity of individual states.
The Articles of Confederation attempted to balance the powers of local and national government. They allowed the national government to coin money, manage the post office, declare peace, and select crucial military officials. However, the Articles of Confederation were lacking in many respects. The national government was not given power to tax. Additionally, state and foreign trade was not under its jurisdiction. Consent from nine of thirteen states was required to pass legislation and amendments were approved only with unanimous consent. Each state, regardless of its population, had only one delegate representing one vote. No national court system was established and perhaps most importantly, there existed no power to enforce the provisions put forth. As expected, with such intrinsic weaknesses, the Articles of Confederation's authority was not far-reaching.
The Constitution further delineated the domains of national and state government. Neither level acting alone can change the division of powers prescribed by the Constitution. To guarantee this, the Framers declared the Constitution as the supreme law of the United States. This means that neither national nor state government can violate its stipulations.
National powers are granted by the Constitution through direct expression, reasonable implications, or inherent powers. The latter are due to the simple fact that the United States is a sovereign nation. Inherent powers include immigration and diplomatic recognition of foreign states. The Constitution denies national powers through articulation or silence. Protection from foreign invasion, respect of territorial integrity, and assurance of a republican government are among the federal government's obligations to states.
State government has reserved powers which are those not given to the national government but not denied to the states. Examples include marriage qualifications, licensing authorization, and administration of the public school system. States restrictions are either expressed by the Constitution or limited due to the existence of national powers.
Concurrent powers are those held separately and simultaneously by both federal and state governments. To illustrate, each level may tax its residents, define crime, and punish lawbreakers. This means that an individual is subject to both national and state legislation.
With the aforementioned divisions of power, the Framers intended to check the friction between national and state government. To a large degree, they were successful. However, conflict continues today. The current trend is devolution of government, meaning that public policies are moving from national to state control. Medicaid and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, are two federal programs some believe should be under state control. Advocates of this standpoint claim that local command of such programs would allow them to function more efficiently and effectively. Deficit concerns also fuel the friction between national and state powers. Some simply see the federal government as too cumbersome. As with all organic processes, American government is evolving. It comes as no surprise then that the conflict of colonial times is present in today's society.
The Framers of the Constitution gave more time to the method for selecting the president than to any other end. As a result of compromise between them, the presidential process is a unique one. Procedures for presidential elections have evolved as the United States has developed into a mature nation.
In order to become president, one must satisfy some basic prerequisites. Only natural born citizens who have lived in the States for fourteen years and are at least 35 years of age are eligible to run for president. The process begins by announcing one's intention to run. This can be accomplished in a number of ways, including revealing it through the media. Next, one must raise funds, get organized, and plan a campaign strategy. The latter determines climate, theme, timing, and target audiences of the campaign.
A presidential hopeful then attends the primary elections, caucuses, and/or conventions where candidates are selected. Political…[continue]
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