Presidential Elections in the United States and Russia

Elections are the means in which society makes political choices by voting for or against competing candidates. Presidential elections typically bring about the most participation from voters, especially when the race is close. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia now enjoys a free election like the United States and many other democratic nations. The main difference between Presidential elections in the United States and Russia is the electoral college. The Presidential election in Russia is a direct vote by the people, while Americans elect their presidents through a unique method known as the electoral college.

For two centuries, the United States has been using the electoral college system conceived by the Founding Fathers as a compromise between electing presidents by Congress or by direct popular vote. Under this system, each state is entitled to electoral votes equal in number to its congressional delegation. The congressional delegation from each state is the number of representatives the state has in the House plus the two state’s senators. The party that wins the popular vote in the state usually wins that states electoral votes. Congress has two key responsibilities relating to the election of the President. It is directed to receive and in joint session count the electoral votes certified by the states. If no candidate has a majority of the electoral vote, the House of Representatives is responsible for electing the President and the Senate is responsible for electing the Vice President.

Voting under the electoral college continually comes under strict criticism. Some say that it is complex, indirect, and even undemocratic. Although it may be unusual, it is not unheard of to gain election to the presidency with less than a majority of the popular vote. Most people agree the president should be elected by popular vote, but the issue is how the popular vote should be aggregated. Opponents cannot accept the unfavorable impact the direct-vote plan would have on the two-party system. A direct vote would encourage minority parties because of the greater probability that two major parties would not receive a majority of the vote.

In 1996, for the first time in a thousand years, Russia selected its head of state in a democratic election. Elections have been going on for quite a long time in Russia, but they have never enjoyed free elections. Voting in these elections was always limited to a privileged few. Voting is now open to any citizen over the age of 18 that has not been declared incompetent by court or imprisoned. The Russian election is unlike the United States election in that it does not consist of an electoral college. This provides for even more of a free election by the people. The election is based solely on popular vote by the citizens. If no candidate has a majority, over 50%, of the votes a runoff election is held. This runoff is held between the two top candidates that have received the greatest amount of votes.

Another difference of elections between the United States and Russia is the number of parties in the political system. Russia has a vast number of different parties, while the United States has only a few. The different numbers of parties does not play a major role because elections where only one candidate can win create strong incentives to consolidate alliances and narrow the field before the vote, pushing these political systems toward bipolarity or majoritarianism. Both the United States and Russia typically end up with two parties competing for President. In 1996, Russia had candidates from seven parties competing for President in the first round of elections. These parties included the Women of Russia, Our Home is Russia (Yeltsin), Yabloko, Democratic Choice, Communist Party (Zyuganov), Congress of Russian Communities, and the Liberal Democratic Party. After the first round, as always, the election was decreased to the two parties with the majority of votes. These parties were the Our Home is Russia, with Boris Yeltsin as candidate, and the Communist Party, with Gennadii Zyuganov as candidate. Boris Yeltsin, very unpredictably, won reelection for President in 1996.

Presidential Primaries in the United States came about from movements in the early 20th century to return the government to the people. The inauguration of primaries created a system in which candidates for office would be chosen by the voters of their party rather than by boss-dominated conventions. These boss-dominated conventions were a result of the links between political bosses and big business. Presidential primaries in America have two basic types. The first type is the presidential preference primary in which voters vote directly for the candidate they wish to be nominated for president. Another is the delegate selection primary where voters elect delegates to the national conventions. Both of these types however demand states to send delegates to the national convention. Individual states determine whether or not the preference vote by the people will be binding on the delegates. Russian candidates for President may be nominated by electoral associations, voters, and election blocs.

An electoral association is an all-Russian political public association (a political party) registered with the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. Electoral blocs are groups of two or more electoral associations, which voluntarily unite for joint participation in the Presidential election. Electoral blocs or associations nominate a candidate and appoint representatives authorized to represent them in all matters concerning participation in the Presidential election. A decision to nominate a candidate is taken by secret ballot at the electoral associations’ or blocs’ Congress (convention). The nomination of a candidate by voters, a nomination by the people, is completed in a different manner. After the decision to call the election of the President has been officially publicized, citizens of the Russian Federation may form an initiative voters’ group consisting of 100 or more people for nominating a candidate. An electoral association, electoral bloc, or initiative voters’ group must all collect at least one million signatures in support of their candidate.

Unlike the United States, Russia does not have a Vice President. It has a Chairman of Government (the Prime Minister or Premier) that acts as a Vice President. The election for President in Russia does not consist of a running mate as it does in America. There are four branches of power in Russia including Legislative, Judiciary, Executive, and the Central Bank.

The present day governments of Russia and America are very similar. The new Russian Federation is completely different than the government of Communist Russia. Although these countries have their similarities, differences in the elections and other procedures are what make each country unique. The Russian Federation is still a new change in Russia and has an unpredictable future. The years down the road will inevitably lead to many changes in the structure and procedures of Russian Government as it has in America for centuries and will continue to do so.

Related Links

Comparison of Russian Election On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation
Russian Elections Russian Presidential Election 1996
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