Image: Bill Clinton
PAUL J. RICHARDS  /  AFP/Getty Images
Former President Bill Clinton campaigns on behalf of his wife on February 11, 2008 in Fairfax, Virginia.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 2/20/2008 2:05:23 PM ET 2008-02-20T19:05:23

In response to our FAQ, readers have posed hundreds of questions, wanting to know what happens after the political parties choose their presidential candidates.

Today, in part II of our response to your questions, we’ll look at the way a presidential candidate moves from the party’s convention to that moment when he or she faces the chief justice on Jan. 20, 2009, raises his or her hand, and utters, “I do solemnly swear….”

Q. "I live in Canada, but I'm still an American citizen. Can I vote in the primary, or just in the presidential election? How, for both questions?"

Yes, you can vote in primary elections and the November presidential election.

According to Prof. Daniel Tokaji at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, the Uniform and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, enacted in 1986, made U.S. citizens living overseas eligible to vote in federal elections, in the state where they were last "domiciled," which generally means the last place where they lived. 

According to Tokaji, there's no time limitation imposed, so even if you moved from New Jersey to New Zealand in 1965, you can still vote in a federal elections for president and members of Congress.

For more information, go to the Overseas Vote Foundation web site which can be found here.

A group called Democrats Abroad, which is recognized by the Democratic National Committee, staged its presidential primary between Feb. 5 to Feb. 12, and will send 22 delegates to the party’s convention.

The Republicans have no analogous process, so members of that party living overseas vote by absentee ballot in the primary, voting for the contest in state where they formerly resided.

Q. "Why can't the president be elected by popular vote? Why is the Electoral College still considered constitutional when it clearly undermines what a democracy stands for?"


The Electoral College is “considered constitutional” because it is constitutional.

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The Constitution itself establishes the system of electors that we use. See Article II, section 1, Clause 2, of the Constitution: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress….”

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Changing this system would require an amendment to the Constitution. It takes the agreement of three-quarters of the states to do that.

And the states with smaller populations (Vermont, Wyoming, South Dakota, etc.) are unlikely to agree to such an amendment, since the system established by the Constitution gives them a bigger voice in electing a president than they’d have if election through a popular vote were used.

Q. “If Barack Obama does not get enough delegates to become the Democratic candidate, yet has won the most popular votes, could he turn independent and run with say, Mayor Bloomberg of New York? How do independents get registered to run for president and do they need electoral votes?”


If Obama failed to win the Democratic nomination, in theory he could try to run as an independent. But it would be difficult for him to get on the ballots in all 50 states.

Some state laws make it hard for an independent candidate to get a spot on the ballot. And some states have relatively early deadlines for qualifying to get on the ballot.

In Arizona, for instance, someone trying to get on the ballot as an independent presidential candidate would need to collect 21,500 signatures by June 4, a point at which the Democratic nomination may still be unresolved.

An independent would need to have slates of electors in all or most of the 50 state in order to get any electoral votes.

Q. “How are people prevented from voting in more than one state, particularly in the states permitting registration and voting on the same day? Also, should a person move and then vote in both his former and present state how is this prevented?”


According to the National Association of Secretaries of State — the officials in most states responsible for administering elections — no national database exists of registered voters in every state and in the District of Columbia.

So it is not possible for state or local election officials to quickly check whether a voter in Arizona, for instance, has already cast a ballot in New York.

Q. “Why are bilingual ballots used to vote despite the fact that English is required for citizenship in this country?”


The Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1975, requires that American citizens who speak certain foreign languages be able to use ballots in their own language.

The Justice Department uses formulas for determining which cities and counties must offer this help, based largely on the share of the local population that speaks the foreign language.

Video: Obama gaining ground In addition, the illiteracy rate of the non-English-speaking group must be higher than the national illiteracy rate.

The requirement applies in hundreds of cities and counties, requiring Filipino language ballots in Santa Clara County, California, and Choctaw language ballots in Neshoba County, Mississippi, to cite two examples.

But the majority of cases involve ballots in Spanish.

The Voting Rights Act applies to all citizens, both those born in the United States (some of whom may not be able to speak English) and those foreigners who’ve become naturalized U.S. citizens.

This part of the Voting Rights Act does seem to be at odds with the requirement that foreigners who seek to become U.S. citizens be able to read, speak and write English.

Q. "What would happen if one of the candidates died just days before the election?"
If the presidential candidate who died were the Democrat, then the Democratic National Committee would meet to choose a replacement; if the presidential candidate were the Republican, the Republican National Committee would meet to choose a replacement.

Q. "Who becomes president if the president-elect dies before Inauguration Day? Has this ever happened before?"
No, it has not happened. If the president-elect died, the Twentieth Amendment to the Constitution says “the Vice President elect shall become President.”

Q. “How is it that the media as well as other government officials know who voted for which candidate as it relates to race, gender, religion, age, etc. Is each ballot coded?”

No, ballots are not color coded.

What news organizations do is to interview a sample of voters who agree to talk about their vote, their income, their religion, and other matters as they leave the voting place.

In the New Hampshire Democratic primary on Jan. 8, for instance, a total of 285,541 people cast ballots. The exit poll done by the TV networks interviewed 1,955 of them — about seven-tenths of one percent of the total.  If the sample is done correctly, it provides an estimate of what percentage of women, for instance, voted in the New Hampshire primary for Sen. Barack Obama.

Q. “Why are elections always held on Tuesday?”
Some primary elections, such as South Carolina’s, are held on a Saturday, not on a Tuesday.

But the November presidential election is by federal law held on a Tuesday.

According to the Congressional Research Service, in 1845, Congress set a uniform time for holding presidential elections, specifying the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every fourth year.

“Tuesday was chosen partly because it gave a full day’s travel time between Sunday (often strictly observed as a day of rest) and voting day,” said the Research Service. “This was considered necessary when travel was either on foot or by horse, and the only polling place in most rural areas was at the county seat. The choice of Tuesday after the first Monday prevented elections from falling on the first day of the month, which was often reserved for court business at the county seat.”

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Q. “Is the Constitution written in a way that a former two-term president could be elected as vice president? President Bill Clinton running on the same ticket with Sen. Hillary Clinton? Also if this were a possibility and something prevented her from serving out her full term, he then would become president for the third time. Has this ever happened, and if so, when?”
No, it has never happened.

The Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution says the presidential electors "shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves….”

The effect of this provision is that a presidential candidate and his or her running mate must reside in different states.

Sen. Clinton and her husband are both residents of the same state. A Clinton-Clinton ticket would risk forfeiting all of New York’s 31 electoral votes. (He could quickly re-locate to Connecticut — only 12 miles from the Clintons' home in Chappaqua, N.Y., but that would seem a bit fishy, wouldn’t it?)

If elected president, Hillary Clinton could in theory appoint Bill Clinton to serve as vice president — but only if there were a vacancy in the office of vice president.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution says, “Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

It seems unlikely that she’d ever appoint Bill Clinton to fill such a vacancy, or that the House and Senate would confirm him.

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