What Is the Timeline For A Presidential Election?

The process of electing the President of the United States can take almost two years and has several milestones along the way. However, many Americans may not be aware of the entire process. Here is a timeline and breakdown of how the United States elects its head of state.

Thursday, March 28th 2024, 3:41 pm

By: David Prock, News On 6

The 2024 Presidential election is upon us with several states having cast their votes in the primary elections.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump clinched their parties’ presidential nominations on March 12, setting up a general election rematch of the 2020 election.

While there are some primaries to go, the next major step in the process is the Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

The process for electing the President of the United States can take almost two years and some may not be aware of the entire process.

Here is a timeline and breakdown of how the United States elects its head of state.

What Is the Timeline For A Presidential Election?

Election Timeline Table

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 1: Registration

The first step of any presidential election cycle is registration.

While there is no federal deadline to register, historically most candidates register in the Spring of the year before the general election.

There are only three requirements to be president in the U.S. which are laid out in the Constitution [1].

The president must:

  1. Be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
  2. Be at least 35 years old.
  3. Have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.

Declaring for President and registering for President are not necessarily synonymous as anyone who meets the above criteria can declare their candidacy. Once a candidate raises or spends more than $5,000 for their campaign, they must register with the Federal Election Commission. [2]

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 2: The Primary Phase

The primary phase typically begins the year before the election, starting at the end of the summer and running through the following August. Primary elections can feature several candidates, often for the non-incumbent party, looking to stand out as the front-runner. During a year in which the incumbent president must step down, both parties can be loaded with more than a dozen candidates.

Candidates will campaign across the U.S. to gain support during the early polling. During this time, major television networks, presidential parties, or tax-exempt nonprofit organizations may host debates featuring the candidates. [3]

The decision to take part in a primary debate is optional for candidates, but many will use them as a chance to get their face and message in front of a larger audience. Oftentimes, the debate host will have requirements for candidates to be invited. According to the FEC, those requirements must be reestablished objective criteria. During a primary race, this can mean that the debate is divided by party affiliation, or by polling performance.

For example, a network may require that a candidate is polling above 6%, this was the case in 2023 for a December 6th debate hosted by NewsNation, The Megyn Kelly Show on SiriusXM, and the Washington Free Beacon. [4]

Eventually, states will begin the process of holding primary elections and caucuses, in which a large group of candidates receive votes from each state that will go toward their delegate counts. The earliest event is the Iowa caucus in Iowa, which normally happens in January of the election year but sometimes happens in early February. [5]

Caucuses are meetings run by political parties and are normally held at the county, district, or precinct level. Some caucuses choose candidates by secret ballot while others divide participants into groups according to the candidate they support. Each candidate’s group gives speeches and works to recruit others into their group. In the end, the number of delegates given to each candidate is based on the number of caucus votes they received. [6]

After Iowa, a handful of other states will hold primary elections leading up to a day known as Super Tuesday.

Fourteen states hold primaries on Super Tuesday, which was March 5 for the 2024 election. Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico South Dakota, and Washington D.C will hold the last presidential primaries for the 2024 election in June, while Alaska and some territories will still hold caucuses in August. [7]

The goal of the primaries is to award delegates to the winning candidates. A delegate is someone who represents their state or community at their party’s presidential nominating convention. These delegates will then choose a presidential candidate to represent the national party in the November general election. [8]

Many candidates will drop out of the race during the primaries based on their campaign’s performance. States and political parties use different methods for deciding how many delegates they will award to each candidate.

How do Republicans Allocate Delegates?

State Republican parties are mostly free to determine how to award delegates to presidential candidates. The Republican National Committee has established some restrictions. There are three delegate “allocation methods” that are common to state Republican parties [9]:

Winner-Take-All: The candidate who receives the most votes in a primary or caucus wins every delegate at stake in that contest. According to the RNC, Only contests held March 15 or later may allocate delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

Proportional: Delegates are awarded to candidates in proportion to the share of the vote they receive in the primary or caucus. If one candidate wins 68 percent of the vote, they are awarded 68 percent of the delegates. There are many variations of proportional allocation methods. Some states allocate all their delegates in proportion to the statewide vote. Others allocate just their statewide delegates according to the statewide vote and their district delegates according to the vote in each district. Many states require that candidates meet a certain vote threshold at either the statewide or district level to qualify for any delegates. Under RNC rules, states holding contests before March 15 must use a proportional allocation method and can use a threshold of no more than 20 percent of the vote for a candidate to qualify for delegates [10].

Hybrid: Some states use a combination of proportional and winner-take-all methods to allocate their delegates. One common approach is majority-take-all, where statewide delegates are awarded proportionally based on the vote share. However, if a candidate garners more than 50% of the votes, they can win all statewide delegates. Similarly, congressional district delegates are awarded proportionally based on individual district results. States that are required to allocate their delegates proportionally can use these combinations.

How do Democrats allocate delegates?

Democrats, on the other hand, have a standardized rule that all state parties must observe. Candidates win at-large and PLEO (Party Leaders and Elected Officials) delegates in proportion to their share of the statewide vote [11].

Similarly, the candidates win district delegates based on the proportion of votes they receive in each congressional district. To qualify for statewide delegates, candidates must receive at least 15 percent of the statewide vote. Similarly, to qualify for delegates in a particular congressional district, they must receive at least 15 percent of the votes in that district.

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 3: The Conventions

After the primaries, delegates for each candidate will attend either the Democratic National Convention or the Republican National Convention. This usually occurs sometime between July and September. In 2024, the RNC will be held between July 15-18 and the DNC will be held between August 19-22.

At the convention, the delegates will vote to confirm their choice of candidate, which is based on the people's vote. If a candidate does not receive a majority of delegates, an additional round of voting will take place among the delegates. This is not a common scenario though, as according to the Congressional Research Service, the last time more than one ballot was required to nominate a presidential candidate was in 1952. [12]

Historically, the convention is where presidential nominees will officially announce their choice for vice president.

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 4: The Debates

Once the candidates for the major parties are selected, the general election campaign begins. Now candidates will look to secure their party base while trying to appeal to independent or uncommitted voters.

Between September and the end of October, Republican and Democrat candidates participate in presidential debates. Usually, there is also at least one Vice Presidential debate. Third parties can be included based on the requirements set by the debate host.

For 2024 there are three tentatively scheduled Presidential debate dates.

  1. Monday, September 16, 2024
  2. Tuesday, October 1, 2024
  3. Wednesday, October 9, 2024

A Vice Presidential debate is scheduled for:

  1. Wednesday, September 25, 2024

After the debate leg, the campaigns will once again hit the trail at full scale in hopes of securing as many votes as possible.

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 5: Election Day

In November, it’s Election Day. Americans will take to the polls and cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice. Most states offer in-person voting, absentee voting, mail-in ballots, or a combination of the three. States can also offer early voting in the weeks before Election Day.

Election Day in 2024 is Tuesday, November 5.

In 1845, Congress passed a federal law designating the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as Election Day.

Once the votes are tallied, the person with the most projected Electoral College votes is deemed the President-Elect, but there is no specific point in time that a candidate becomes "President-Elect" laid out in the Constitution.

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 6: The Electoral College

Unlike elections for Senate or House, Presidential candidates are ultimately chosen by electors who represent the states.

This is known as the Electoral College.

The Electoral College comes from the Constitution and was a compromise between a popular vote by citizens and a vote in Congress [13]. As of 2024, there are 538 electors in all, including Washington, D.C.’s three electors. How electors are chosen can vary from state to state but each state’s political party can choose its slate of potential electors.

The Electoral College process works like this:

  1. After you cast your ballot for president, your vote goes to a statewide tally.
  2. The winner of the statewide tally gets all the electoral votes for that state. This is the case for 48 states and Washington D.C. Maine and Nebraska assign their electors using a proportional system.
  3. A candidate needs the vote of at least 270 of the 538 electors to win. The candidate who reaches that mark will become the President of the United States.

Electors will meet in their respective states on the first Tuesday after the second Wednesday in December after the general election. The electors vote for their state's winner and those votes are recorded on a Certificate of Vote, which is then sent to Congress.

Often, the media and public can project a winner the night of the election. This is because it would be highly irregular for an elector to vote against their state’s vote tally but it is not unheard of. In some cases, the rare elector who votes for someone other than their state's winner may be fined, replaced by a substitute, or possibly even prosecuted by their state.

It is possible to win the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. This is because of the elector/delegation counts among states. In this way, a candidate can win states that have a higher combined number of electors even if the total population of those states is less than their opponents.

This scenario happened in 2016, 2000, 1888, 1876, and 1824 (By a vote of the House of Reps).

Because of those scenarios, many have argued against the Electoral College, stating that it has the potential to subvert the will of the people. Others have argued for all states to move to a percentage-proportional system which would assign electors based on the votes in each state. Essentially giving both candidates, a share of electors in each state. Still many maintain that the Electoral College provides smaller states with a greater influence, that they may not be able to garner in a strictly popular vote.

It would take a constitutional amendment to change the Electoral Process or perhaps a ruling by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the winner-take-all model [14].

Suppose no candidate receives the majority of electoral votes. In that case, the vote goes to the House of Representatives, as was the case in 1824 when the House elected John Quincy Adams despite him losing the popular vote [15].

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 7: Congress Counts The Electoral Votes

As a part of the process, Congress is required to meet on the sixth day of January after every Electoral College to count and certify the votes [16].

In decades past, this was a relatively low-profile step of the election process that some would say was little more than an obligation. However, the events of January 6, 2021, have elevated this date as one of some controversy.

The process for the electoral vote count is straightforward. Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate convene in a joint session of Congress to count and certify the votes of the electoral college for the next President of the United States .

The electoral votes are transported to the chamber in two wooden chests to be counted and verified.

The sitting Vice President of the United States leads the session and announces the status of the electoral vote from each state and then calls for a vote for their certification [17].

Example: “The certificate of the electoral vote of the state of Oklahoma seems to be regular in form and authentic.”

During the session, one member each from the U.S. House and U.S. Senate can submit a written objection after the body reads the vote count from a particular state or the District of Columbia. The two chambers of Congress must then separate for debate for up to two hours before voting by a simple majority to concur with or reject the objection.

If there are any objections to the count from any state, they must be resolved before the process can continue to the next state.

Objections to Electoral votes are historically rare and have happened only four times in U.S. history. The first time was in 1969, with an objection to a faithless elector in North Carolina. The second was on January 6, 2005, with a formal challenge to Ohio's electoral votes.

Two objections were made in 2021 to the vote counts for Arizona and Pennsylvania.

During the debate of Arizona's votes around 2 p.m., a large group of supporters for President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol, and members of the House and Senate were evacuated from the building. Congress was placed under lockdown for nearly four hours. Around 5:40 p.m., the Sergeant-at-Arms announced that the Capitol building had been secured and Congress was able to reconvene at 8:00 p.m. Objections to the Arizona votes were rejected, as were the later objections to Pennsylvania.

For the 2024 election, Congress will meet to count and certify the Electoral College votes on January 6, 2025.

The Presidential Election Timeline Step 8: Presidential Inauguration Day

The final step of the election process is Inauguration Day which happens every four years on January 20 or January 21 if the 20th falls on a Sunday.

The next presidential inauguration is scheduled to be on January 20, 2025. On that day, the President-Elect and the vice-president-elect are sworn into their respective positions and take their Oath of Office.

The President’s Oath of Office:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

The Vice President’s Oath of Office:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God."

The President will give their inaugural address and then the outgoing President and First Lady will depart the Capitol. The newly sworn President will take their first actions, signing in nominations for certain roles. Finally, there is a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol.

At the end of the inaugural ceremonies and the luncheon, the President and Vice President will go to the Capitol’s East Front steps to review military troops before leading a procession of ceremonial military regiments.

Then it’s time to go to work, and the process will start again about two years later.

Sources Used For This Article:

The U.S. Constitution

  1. [1] ArtII.S1.C5.1 Qualifications for the Presidency
  2. [13] Article II, Section 1, Clause 3

Federal Election Commission

  1. [2] Monetary Requirements to register for Presidential campaign.
  2. [3] Who can Host a debate

News Nation

  1. [4] NewsNation Dec. 6 Debate Requirements.


  1. [5] Iowa Caucuses

State Historical Society of Iowa

  1. [6] Iowa Caucuses

National Conference of State Legislatures

  1. [7] Primary dates

PBS News Hour

  1. [8] What is a delegate
  2. [9] How Do Republicans Allocate Delegate During Primary Elections
  3. [10] How do Democrats allocate delegates During Primary Elections

RNC Rules Of The Republican Party

  1. [11] March 15 Deadline for proportional delegate allocation method, pg 22.

The Congressional Research Service

  1. [12] The Presidential Nominating Process and the National Party Conventions, 2016: Frequently Asked Questions

Equal Citizens

  1. [14] Supreme Court Decision Could Alter Electoral College

The National Endowment For Humanities.gov

  1. [15] The Presidential Election of 1824:

Cornell Law: US Legal Code 3 U.S. Code § 15

  1. [16] Counting the Electoral Votes in Congress

United States House of Representative

  1. [17] Counting the Electoral Votes in Congress


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