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Can anybody run for president?

POTUS: President of the United States. At least 35 years old. A natural born citizen.

Nope. Here are the pre-reqs...

  • You have to be at least 35

  • You have to have lived in the US for at least 14 years

  • You have to be a “natural born Citizen.” It basically means that if you were born here, or if one of your parents was a US citizen when you were born, you make the cut -- even if you were outside the US when you came out wearing your birthday suit.

  • You also have to looove deadlines. Because there are lots of them. Each party in each state has its own deadlines for candidates to file to get on the ballot. And each state has its own requirements (think: fees, a minimum number of signatures, paperwork). Fun stuff.

What’s the Electoral College?

OHIO: 16 House Reps + 2 Senators = 18 Electoral College Votes

The process that officially picks the next US president. Your vote matters, but not in the way you think...

  • When you pull the lever for a candidate on Election Day, you’re actually voting for ‘electors’ who’ll cast a vote for your candidate

  • Whichever candidate wins the most votes in each state wins that state's electors

  • There are 538 electors from every state in the Electoral College

  • Every state’s # of electors is equal to the number of its Congressional lawmakers (2 Senators + the # of House Reps). So, California, gets 55 votes (2 senators + 53 House Reps)...and Rhode Island gets 4 (2 senators + 2 House Reps)

  • This system was the Founding Fathers’ way of trying to keep each state’s influence in check, and giving everyone a migraine.

Bottom line: whichever candidate gets to 270 electoral votes usually wins.

WHY DO I KEEP HEARING ABOUT THE SUPREME COURT?

Supreme Court Justices

Justice Antonin Scalia passed away this year. Now, there's an open seat in the Supremes’ group...right before an election. This just became a supremely important game of musical chairs.

GIMME SOME BACKGROUND.

There are nine Supremes on the bench. For decades, they’ve been divided between five conservative and four liberal justices. Scalia was one of the more conservative ones in the squad.

HOW DO JUSTICES USUALLY LEAVE THE BENCH?

Typically, justices wait until a president from their party is elected before resigning from their seat -- to keep it in the political family. It’s rare for a seat to open up during an election year, and it means that Obama has the chance to tip the court to the left, to the left.

SO WHAT’S THE PROCESS FOR PICKING A NEW JUSTICE?

Per the Constitution, the president makes a list, checks it twice, and nominates the person he wants for the job. Then, the Senate has to approve. That usually takes around 67 days. Key word:  usually.

HOW’S IT LOOKING THIS TIME?

Very hazy. Reminder:  it’s an election year. President Obama said that little thing called the Constitution gives him the right to nominate a replacement, but some of the GOP thinks Obama should pass the torch to the next prez. A lot of senators in the GOP -- which controls the Senate right now -- have said they will block anyone Obama nominates until after November. That’s in the hopes that a Republican takes back the White House, and will get to nominate a conservative. Surprise:  Dems do not love this plan. Insert a lot of political heat, and candidates who are happy to argue in the kitchen.

SO WHAT COULD HAPPEN?

A LOT of waiting. If the GOP blocks anyone Obama serves up, it could be the longest nomination process. Ever. Here are the ‘what ifs.’

  • If the Dems lose the Senate and the White House...there’s almost no chance that a left-leaning nominee will replace Scalia.
  • If the Dems win the Senate and the White House….a left-leaning nominee is basically guaranteed to get approved.
  • If the Dems win the Senate but lose the White House…there’s a short period of time where a Dem-controlled Senate could push through Obama’s nominee while he’s still in office.
  • If the Dems lose the Senate but win the White House...the GOP-controlled Senate will most likely block Obama’s nominee, but may be forced to approve a left-leaning nominee when the new prez comes to town.

theSKIMM

2016 somehow just got a little crazier. The Supremes make the biggest decisions in the US (including rulings on abortion and immigration this year). So the decision of who to cast in the ‘Justice’ role has huge political implications.

Who pays for all of this?

Campaign Finance: Individuals, PAC, Super PACs, Dark Money

Ooh, lots of people. Money in politics has always been a big issue, but after a 2010 Supreme Court case, it became a really, really big issue.

WHAT’S THIS CASE?

Citizens United. The Supremes ruled that election spending counts as free speech. So now, anyone -- individuals, unions, companies -- is allowed to spend as much as they could possibly want on an election.

I'M BORED. WHY IS THIS A BIG DEAL?

Because candidates want your vote, but they also need money. So people who are rolling in it end up having a lot more influence over elections. These people used to donate to a PAC. But after Citizens United, they started putting a lot more of their cash money into Super PACs.

WHAT’S A PAC?

A political action committee. They can give money directly to candidates and political parties. But there are rules: PACs are only allowed to give $5,000 per candidate and $15,000 per party in an election.

AND WHAT’S THE OTHER ONE?

Super PACs. These are PACs on steroids. They can’t do things like pay for candidates’ private jets, hotel rooms, or anything directly contributing to the campaign. But TV ads are fair game, and they can spend unlimited cash on ones supporting their guy or girl -- and hating on opponents. They do need to disclose their donors, which is why a lot of people and groups prefer to go dark.

WHAT’S THAT?

We’re talking “dark money.” People and groups that don’t want the rest of the world to know what they’re spending on elections can donate to certain kinds of nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors. These are organizations that have gotten the OK from the IRS to give cash to “social-welfare” causes like gun control or protecting the environment. They can also foot the bill for ads supporting candidates who are into their causes.

SOUNDS COMPLICATED.

Yup. Recently, the head of the Federal Election Commission -- which literally exists to make sure everyone’s following campaign finance laws -- said there's really no way to make sure everyone’s following campaign finance laws. Which is just..great.

theSKIMM

There are a lot of rules to campaign finance. And a lot of loopholes. Expect talk about how 2016 will be ‘the most expensive election year ever.’ Hint: possibly more than $6 billion.

Why are voter ID laws so controversial?

Voter ID Laws: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Virginia

Because not everyone has an ID or can get one easily. Many states say ‘no ID, no problem.’ Others require you to show some face, literally. Think: photo IDs issued by the gov. like driver’s licenses and passports.

WHAT ARE THE OPINIONS?

Some in the GOP say strict voter ID laws prevent voter fraud. Dems say ‘not so,’ they just keep minorities and low-income people from voting. Reminder: it typically costs money to get a government ID, and often costs money to get to the polls.

GIMME SOME BACKGROUND.

In the 60s, the US passed the Voting Rights Act to say ‘peace’ to racial discrimination at the polls. A part of that required states with a history of discrimination (cough, the South, cough) to get approval from the Justice Department before changing any laws. Then a few years ago, the Supreme Court struck down that part of the law.

WHICH STATES ARE STRICT?

Seven states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Virginia — have laws that require government-issued photo ID. Last year, an appeals court struck down a Texas law — which accepted handgun licenses but not student IDs — saying it discriminated against minorities. States like Arizona and Alabama have also been challenged on their laws.

theSKIMM

Voter turnout has been low, low, low in recent years. That’s partly because people are feeling meh about politics in general, and many think partly because it’s not always so easy to vote. Like most election issues, this one’s not going anywhere.

WHY DO I KEEP HEARING ABOUT THIRD PARTY CANDIDATES?

WHAT’S THAT?

You know the birds and bees of politics. Or the donkeys and elephants. But this year, there are also candidates from the Libertarian and Green parties on the ballot.

WHAT THE F ARE THESE PARTIES?

The Libertarian Party’s unofficial slogan is ‘leave us alone.’ They believe in making the federal government as small as possible. That means marriage equality, pro-choice, pro-reefer madness, and no wars unless they’re specifically for ‘Murica’s self defense. The Green Party is about peace and environmental love. They want to end wars abroad, focus on the climate and social justice, and push corporations out of politics. Basically, they’re Bernie Sanders in a different outfit.

HOW ARE THESE CANDIDATES DOING?

Depends who you ask. They need to be polling at 15% to get on the debate stage with Hillz and The Donald. Neither is consistently above 10%, although Johnson could end up pulling that off. But this year, they’re actually doing way better than is typical for third party candidates. That’s because they’re up against two very, very unpopular candidates.

HAS A THIRD PARTY CANDIDATE EVER WON?

No. At least not for president. It’s hugely difficult and expensive to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Especially without the backing of a major political party and its massive donor networks. But third party candidates can influence elections by taking away votes from the major party candidates.

TELL ME ABOUT THAT.

In 1992, businessman Ross Perot ran third party and took 19% of the vote. Bill Clinton got elected – but many wondered if the outcome would have been different without Perot in the game. In 2000, activist Ralph Nader ran third party and won a small portion of the popular vote. But he picked up more than 90,000 votes in Florida. Cue the hanging chads – and Al Gore losing to George W Bush.

WHY ARE THEY SO CONTROVERSIAL?

Because third party candidates never win presidential elections. So voting for one of them can mean helping one of the major party candidates by taking a vote away from their opponent. This is especially true for voters in swing states where it comes down to the wire.

SO WHO ARE THEY?

Got you covered. Here's your Skimm.

What are delegates?

Delegates: VIPs

VIPs from each state who vote at the party conventions to officially put a ring on a nominee.

  • They’re typically party super-fans (think: local leaders, activists)

  • Both the GOP and Dems have their own rules for how many delegates each state gets, and how they get picked

  • They’re supposed to vote at the convention for whoever the state or district they’re repping chose in the primaries

  • Once a candidate wins enough primaries to get the majority of delegate votes at the convention, it’s pretty much game over

  • Psst...you’ll also be hearing about “super delegates.” This is just a Democrat thing. Superdelegates are VVIPs (think: lawmakers, party officials) who are single and ready to mingle. They’re not tied down to any candidate and can swipe right for whoever they want. They become important when the number of delegates who have pledged allegiance to different candidates is super-close.

What’s the point of a convention?

Convention coronation

Officially? To outline the party's platform and nominate the candidate. Unofficially? To hold a primetime debutante ball for the candidate to come out to ‘Murica. The nomination happens with a floor vote of the delegates. There usually isn’t any suspense factor. But heads up: your friends who watch “Meet the Press” might be all excited about a possible “brokered convention.” Translation: because there are so many GOP candidates this year, there could be last-minute wheeling and dealing at the convention to pick the nominee. This is a national party’s nightmare, since there’s a lot of uncertainty involved.

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