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What Are the Different Types of Elections?

There are three types of elections: general elections, primary elections, and special elections.

General Elections

In general elections, you vote for federal, state, and local officials.

  • Elected federal officials are U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives to Congress.
  • Elected state officials are Governor, Lieutenant Governor, General Assembly, Attorney General, Auditor General, and State Treasurer.
  • Elected local officials are county and city officials, judges and magisterial district judges.

In odd-numbered years, such as 2025, general elections for electing local officials are also called municipal elections because there are no federal or state officials being elected. Every four years, the General Election is also a Presidential Election because, according to the U.S. Constitution, the U.S. President’s term is four years.

The General Election is held the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. This year, General Election (Presidential Election) will take place on November 5th, 2024.

Primary Elections

In primary elections, a party selects a candidate for a General Election, and you vote for a candidate who will be nominated to be on a ballot. Article I, section 4 of the U.S. Constitution gives individual states the right to decide when and how elections are conducted. As a result, every state has different dates for their elections and follows different rules.

See the US Vote State Primary Dates Chart

There are three types of the primary elections: “open primary,” “closed primary,” and “blanket/ nonpartisan primary.”

  • First, an “open primary” is a primary where you - as a voter - don’t have to be affiliated with the party for whose candidate you’re voting. In other words, if you registered with one party you can still vote for a candidate from another party in an “open primary.” However, you have to choose one Party and are allowed to vote only in the primary of your choice. Or vice versa.
  • Second, in a “closed primary,” you can only vote for a candidate from the party with which you’re affiliated. In other words, if you’re registered as with a particular party, you can only vote for a candidate from that party. Your party affiliation for the primary elections is considered permanent until you change it.
  • Third, in a “blanket” or “nonpartisan primary”, also called the “jungle primary”, you can vote for candidates from different parties as you receive a single multiparty ballot and are not bound to party affiliation. The candidate from each party who receives most votes is nominated for a General Election.

    Alaska, California, Louisiana, and Washington use “blanket”/“nonpartisan” primaries. In Louisiana, all candidates are listed on one ballot, and the candidate with most majority votes moves on to the General Election. If no candidate has reached a majority, the two top candidates move on to the next election, regardless of party affiliation.

Special Elections

In special elections, you can vote for a candidate to replace an official who is no longer able to serve. In other words, if an elected official has resigned, died, or got removed from office, you can vote for a new official. Special elections may be held either during a general election or primary election, or on a completely different date assigned by the elections office. Everyone who lives in the district can vote in that election.

All in all, there are plenty of opportunities to participate in the democratic process in the United States.

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