Congressional Elections

Eligibility of Congressmen

Sections 2 and 3 of Article 1 of the Constitution describe the qualifications for membership in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Learning Objectives

Compare the qualifications for membership in the House and Senate

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Senate has 100 members, elected for six year terms in dual-seat constituencies, two from each state. One-third are renewed every two years. The group of the Senate seats that is up for election during a given year is known as a class.
  • The House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for two year terms in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1 in even years, correlated with presidential elections..
  • Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for representatives. Each representative must (1) be at least twenty-five years old, (2) have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years, and (3) be an inhabitant of the state they represent.
  • The constitutional requirements of Article I, Section 2 for election to Congress are the maximum requirements that can be imposed on a candidate.
  • Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: (1) they must be at least 30 years old, (2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past nine years, and (3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent.
  • The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution disqualifies from the Senate any federal or state officers who had taken the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engaged in rebellion or aided the enemies of the United States.

Key Terms

  • u.s. house of representatives: The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for two year terms in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1 in even years, correlated with presidential elections. House elections are first-past-the-post elections that elect a Representative from each of 435 House districts which cover the United States.
  • delegate: A person authorized to act as representative for another; in politics, a party representative allocated to nominate a party candidate.
  • u.s. senate: The U.S. Senate has 100 members, elected for six year terms in dual-seat constituencies, two from each state. One-third are renewed every two years.

Introduction

The U.S. Senate has 100 members, elected for six year terms in dual-seat constituencies, two from each state. One-third are renewed every two years. The group of the Senate seats that is up for election during a given year is known as a class. The three classes are staggered so that only one of the three groups is renewed every two years. Until the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution in 1913, Senators were elected by state legislatures, not the electorate of states. The age of candidacy to be a Senator is 30.

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Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill, where bills become laws.

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111th US Senate class photo: A class photo of the 111th United States Senate.

The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for two year terms in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1 in even years, correlated with presidential elections. House elections are first-past-the-post elections that elect a Representative from each of 435 House districts which cover the United States. Special House elections can occur if a member dies or resigns during a term. The delegates of the territories of American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also elected. The age of candidacy to be a Representative is 25.

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Barack Obama meets with Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer & George Miller: President Barack Obama meets with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller, in the Oval Office Wednesday, May 13, 2009. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Rangel also attended the meeting but are not in the photo.

Qualifications in the House

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for representatives. Each representative must (1) be at least twenty-five years old, (2) have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years, and (3) be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they represent. Members are not required to live in the district they represent, but they traditionally do. The age and citizenship qualifications for representatives are less than those for senators. The constitutional requirements of Article I, Section 2 for election to Congress are the maximum requirements that can be imposed on a candidate. Therefore, Article I, Section 5, which permits each House to be the judge of the qualifications of its own members does not permit either House to establish additional qualifications. Likewise a State cannot establish additional qualifications.

Qualifications in the Senate

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: (1) they must be at least 30 years old, (2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past nine years, and (3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election. The age and citizenship qualifications for senators are more stringent than those for representatives. In Federalist No. 62, James Madison justified this arrangement by arguing that the “senatorial trust” called for a “greater extent of information and stability of character. ”

The Senate is the sole judge of a senator’s qualifications. During its early years, however, the Senate did not closely scrutinize the qualifications of its members. As a result, three senators who failed to meet the age qualification were nevertheless admitted to the Senate: Henry Clay (aged 29 in 1806), Armistead Thomson Mason (aged 28 in 1816), and John Eaton (aged 28 in 1818). Such an occurrence, however, has not been repeated since. In 1934, Rush D. Holt, Sr. was elected to the Senate at the age of 29; he waited until he turned 30 (on the following June 19) to take the oath of office. In 1972, Joe Biden was elected to the Senate shortly before his 30th birthday, but he reached his 30th birthday in time for the swearing-in ceremony for incoming senators in January 1973.

It is important to mention disqualification procedures in Congress. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, a federal or state officer who takes the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engages in rebellion or aids the enemies of the United States, is disqualified from becoming a representative. This post-Civil War provision was intended to prevent those who sided with the Confederacy from serving. However, disqualified individuals may serve if they gain the consent of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.

The Power of Incumbency

The incumbent is the existing holder of a political office who normally has a structural advantage over challengers during an election.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the advantages the incumbents have in campaigns

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The incumbent is the existing holder of a political office who normally has a structural advantage over challengers during an election for multiple reasons.
  • A race without an incumbent is known as an open seat because of the lack of incumbency advantage and they are the most contested races in an election.
  • The anti-incumbency factor is when incumbency leads to the downfall of the incumbent.
  • An anti-incumbent vote is one exercised against elected officials currently in power.

Key Terms

  • incumbency: the state of holding an office or title
  • reapportionment: Reassignment of representation in a legislature, especially of U.S. House of Representative seats, in accord with changes in the census population determination.

The incumbent is the existing holder of a political office. It is usually used in reference to elections where races can often be defined as being between an incumbent and non-incumbents. Incumbents have structural advantages over challengers during elections. The percentage of incumbents who win reelection after seeking it in the U.S. House of Representatives has been over 80% for more than 50 years, and is often over 90%. Additionally, shifts in congressional districts due to reapportionment or other longer- term factors may make it more or less likely for an incumbent to win re-election over time. A race without an incumbent is referred to as an open seat because of the lack of incumbency advantage and they are the most contested races in an election.

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Longtime House Incumbent, Ben Cardin: Current Senator Ben Cardin was a longtime incumbent in the House of Representatives, serving from 1987 to 2007.

When newcomers vie to fill an open office, voters tend to compare and contrast the candidates ‘ qualifications, positions on issues and personal characteristics in a relatively straightforward way. Incumbents traditionally win their party’s nomination to run for office and unseating an incumbent during a primary elections is very difficult. The timing of elections may be determined by the incumbent instead of a set schedule. The incumbent often has more name recognition because of their previous work in the office they occupy. Incumbents have easier access to campaign finance and government resources that can be indirectly used to boost a campaign.

In general, incumbents have structural advantages over challengers during elections. The timing of elections may be determined by the incumbent instead of a set schedule. For most political offices, the incumbent often has more name recognition due to their previous work in the office. Incumbents also have easier access to campaign finance, as well as government resources (such as the franking privilege) that can be indirectly used to boost a campaign. An election (especially for a legislature) in which no incumbent is running is often called an open seat; because of the lack of incumbency advantage, these are often amongst the most hotly contested races in any election.

In the United States, incumbents traditionally win their party’s nomination to run for office. Unseating an incumbent president, senator or other figure during a primary election is very difficult, and even in the general election, incumbents have a very strong record. For instance, the percentage of incumbents who win reelection after seeking it in the U.S. House of Representatives has been over 80% for over 50 years, and is often over 90%.

However, there exist scenarios in which the incumbency factor itself leads to the downfall of the incumbent. Popularly known as the anti-incumbency factor, situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven himself not worthy of office during his tenure and the challenger demonstrates this fact to the voters. An anti-incumbent vote is one exercised against elected officials currently in power. It allows the voters to register their discontent with sitting government officials, particularly when protesting against certain actions taken by the government or the elected officials in question. An anti-incumbency factor can also be responsible for bringing down incumbents who have been in office for many successive terms in spite of performance indicators, simply because the voters are convinced by the challenger of a need for change. Nick Panagakis, a pollster, coined what he dubbed the “incumbent rule” in 1989—that any voter who claims to be undecided towards the end of the election will probably end up voting for the challenger.

Voters first have to consider the records and antecedents of the incumbent. Only if they decide to “fire” the incumbent do they begin to evaluate whether the challenger is an acceptable alternative. At the same time, if the challenger is determined to be completely unacceptable, voters might reluctantly vote for the incumbent. There are situations in which the incumbency factor leads to the downfall of the incumbent. This is known as the anti-incumbency factor. Situations of this kind occur when the incumbent has proven himself unworthy of the office during his tenure and the challenger convincingly demonstrates this fact to the voters. An anti-incumbency factor can also be responsible for voting out incumbents who have been in office for many successive terms in spite of performance indicators, simply because the voters are convinced by the challenger of a need for change.

Congressional Terms and Term Limits

Members of the Senate may serve unlimited six-year terms and members of the House may serve unlimited two-year terms.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the attempts to impose term limits on Senators and Representatives

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Under the Constitution, members of the United States Senate may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives may serve an unlimited number of two-year terms.
  • In the 1990s, reformers put congressional term limits on the ballot and the main Republican Party platform was to pass legislation setting term limits in Congress.
  • A proposed amendment limited members of the Senate to two six-year terms and members of the House to six two-year terms. The amendment was never passed.

Key Terms

  • amendment: An addition to and/or alteration to the Constitution.
  • referendum: A direct popular vote on a proposed law or constitutional amendment.

Congressional Terms and Term Limits

Under the Constitution, members of the United States Senate may serve an unlimited number of six-year terms and members of the House of Representatives may serve an unlimited number of two-year terms.

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Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill, or the Capitol Building, houses the United States Congress.

Reformers during the early 1990s used referendums to put congressional term limits on the ballot in 24 states. Voters in eight of these states approved the congressional term limits by an average electoral margin of two to one. In the elections of 1994, part of the Republican platform was to pass legislation setting term limits in Congress. After winning the majority, they brought the constitutional amendment to the House floor. The amendment limited members of the Senate to two six-year terms and members of the House to six two-year terms. However, constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority and the votes to impose term limits on Congress fell short of that number.

In May 1995, the United States Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton (1995). The ruling says that states cannot impose term limits on their federal Representatives or Senators. The U.S. Term Limits was the largest private organization pushing for Congressional term limits. Earlier that year, the Congress had given the Court assurance that the Justices would be acting only against state statutes, not overturning an act of Congress.The hopes of some that Congress would self-impose term limits had abruptly come to an end.

With the Republicans holding 230 seats in the House, three versions of the amendment got well under 200 votes, while the 12 year term-limits managed a bare majority in the House of 227-204, well short of the requisite two-thirds majority (290 votes) required to pass a constitutional amendment. Defeated in Congress and overridden by the Supreme Court, this populist uprising was brought to a halt for the purpose of reforming the federal government. The term limits intended simultaneously to reform legislatures remain in fifteen states.

In 2007, Professor Larry J. Sabato revived the debate over term limits by arguing in A More Perfect Constitution that the success and popularity of term limits at the state level suggests that they should be adopted at the federal level as well. He specifically put forth the idea of congressional term limits and suggested a national constitutional convention be used to accomplish the amendment, since the Congress would be unlikely to propose and adopt any amendment that limits its own power.

Candidates for Congressional Elections

Congressional elections determine the structure and makeup of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Learning Objectives

Describe the relationship between House elections and the Presidential term cycle

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for a two year term in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1 in even years.
  • House elections occur every two years, correlated with presidential elections or halfway through a President’s term. Typically, when a House election occurs in the same year as a presidential election, the party of the presidential winner will gain seats.
  • An increasing trend has been for incumbents to have an overwhelming advantage in House elections, and since the 1994 election, an unusually low number of seats has changed hands in each election.
  • The Senate has 100 members, elected for a six year term in dual-seat constituencies (2 from each state ), with one-third being renewed every two years.
  • Elections to the Senate are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years, Election Day, and coincide with elections for the House of Representatives. Senators are elected by their state as a whole.

Key Terms

  • house of representatives: The United States House of Representatives is one of the two houses of the United States Congress. The major power of the House is to pass federal legislation that affects the entire country, although its bills must also be passed by the Senate and further agreed to by the U.S. President before becoming law.
  • senate: The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Each U.S. state is represented by two senators, regardless of population. Senators serve staggered six-year terms. The chamber of the United States Senate is located in the north wing of the Capitol, in Washington, D.C., the national capital.

Congressional elections

Elections to Congress take place every two years. Congress has two chambers in Capitol Hill. Although the two-party system preserves the dominance of the Republican and Democratic parties, there is no direct relationship between congressional party discipline and election years. The support and backing of the parties is not necessary and sufficient to win elections. However, candidates no longer have a congressional party discipline like in other historical times.

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Capitol Hill: Capitol Hill, where bills become laws.

Senate elections

The Senate has 100 members, elected for a six year term in dual-seat constituencies (2 from each state), with one-third being renewed every two years. The group of the Senate seats that is up for election during a given year is known as a “class”; the three classes are staggered so that only one of the three groups is renewed every two years. Until the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1913, Senators were elected by state legislatures, not the electorate of states.

Originally, senators were selected by the state legislatures, not by popular elections. By the early years of the 20th century, the legislatures of as many as 29 states had provided for popular election of senators by referendums. Popular election to the Senate was standardized nationally in 1913 by the ratification of the 17th Amendment.

Elections to the Senate are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November in even-numbered years, Election Day, and coincide with elections for the House of Representatives. Senators are elected by their state as a whole. In most states, a primary election is held first for the Republican and Democratic parties, with the general election following a few months later. Ballot access rules for independent and minor party candidates vary from state to state. The winner is the candidate who receives a plurality of the popular vote. In some states, runoffs are held if no candidate wins a majority.

House of Representatives Elections

The House of Representatives has 435 members, elected for a two year term in single-seat constituencies. House of Representatives elections are held every two years on the first Tuesday after November 1 in even years. House elections are first-past-the-post elections that elect a Representative from each of 435 House districts which cover the United States. Special House elections can occur between if a member dies or resigns during a term. The delegates of the territories of American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands are also elected.

House elections occur every two years, correlated with presidential elections or halfway through a President’s term. Typically, when a House election occurs in the same year as a presidential election, the party of the presidential winner will gain seats. On the other hand, there is a historical pattern that the incumbent president’s party loses seats in elections that are held in the middle of a presidential term. This may be because the President’s popularity has slipped since election, or because the President’s popularity encouraged supporters to come out to vote for him in the presidential election, but these supporters are less likely to vote when the President is not up for election.

As the redistricting commissions of states are often partisan, districts are often drawn which benefit incumbent. An increasing trend has been for incumbents to have an overwhelming advantage in House elections, and since the 1994 election, an unusually low number of seats has changed hands in each election. Due to gerrymandering, fewer than 10% of all House seats are contested in each election cycle. Over 90% of House members are reelected every two years, due to lack of electoral competition. Gerrymandering of the House, combined with the divisions inherent in the design of the Senate and of the Electoral College, result in a discrepancy between the percentage of popular support for various political parties and the actual level of the parties’ representation.

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US House Balance OverTime: Chart shows the percentage of the United States House of Representatives held by various parties from 1789 until 2004. (as elected in the biennial elections) Occasionally terms are applied in a slightly anachronistic way, such as for Federalists and Democratic-Republicans in the first few years on the Congress, or for Whigs during Jackson’s presidency. Notable features include the near absence of minor parties, and the narrowness of the current majority by historical standards.

2016 Congressional Elections

A total of 469 seats in the U.S. Congress (34 Senate seats and all 435 House seats) are up for election on November 8, 2016.

The big questionof the 2016 congressional election cycle is whether or not the Democratic Party will be able to regain control of the Senate. In order to take the chamber back, Democrats will need to gain five seats in 2016. The majority of vulnerable seats are held by Republican incumbents, many of whom are freshmen who were swept into office in the Republican wave of 2010. Additionally, Democrats only have 10 seats to defend in 2016, while 24 Republican incumbents are up for re-election.