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Answered 2009-01-26 11:32:50

First, each party holds primary contests in each state. These elections may either be primaries (people vote by secret ballot) or caucuses (people meet in a public room and stand in a designated area to show their support for a candidate. there are a lot of unusual rules for caucuses). The results of these contests determine the allocation of delegates from that state. Some caucus states have regional delegates that then select the state-level delegates. These delegates are pledged to a particular candidate, and the Democratic party also has "superdelegates" who are high-ranking party leaders and elected officials, who can choose to support any candidate they want.

After the primary contests, the party then holds a convention, at which time the delegates vote until a presidential nominee (and vice presidential nominee) is determined. A candidate needs a majority of that party's delegates to be nominated. The Republicans have just over 2000 delegates and the Democrats have somewhere around 4500.

Once the nominee is chosen, he or she then campaigns against the other parties' nominees, and the winner is chosen by electoral vote on a Tuesday in November. The national election is held on the same day in every state, and each state is apportioned (by population) a certain number of "electoral college" members, who generally vote for whoever won the popular vote in their state. Each state and the District of Columbia has between 3 and 55 electors. Each elector then signs a "Certificate of Vote" and sends it to the sitting Vice President's office. About a month after the election, there's a special session of Congress and they declare the winner of the presidential election. Normally, one of the candidates concedes the night of or the day after the election, so declaring the winner is simply a formality.

Then, in January, the new president and vice president are sworn in and inaugurated.

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