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Civics and Government: GED Test Prep (page 2)

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Updated on Jul 5, 2011

State and Local Governments

State governments resemble the federal government in the way that they are structured. The governor acts as the chief executive and can veto legislation. Most states have legislatures made of two houses, and each state has its own court system, constitution, and a system of checks and balances.

Local governments vary from the state and federal model. There are three basic forms of local government:

  1. Mayor-council—in this form, voters elect a mayor as city or town executive and they elect a council member from each specific ward.
  2. Council-manager—in this form, voters elect council members, who, in turn, hire a manager to run the day-to-day operations of the city or town.
  3. Commission—in this form, voters elect commissioners to head a city or county department, such as the fire, police, or public works department.

State governments must approve and grant power to, or charter, all town and city governments.

Political Parties

Although the U.S. Constitution does not mention the existence of political parties, they have played an influential role throughout most of the country's history. A political party is an organization that presents its positions on public issues and promotes candidates that support its point of view. Political parties serve several functions:

  • recruit candidates and run election campaigns
  • formulate positions on issues that affect the public and propose solutions
  • educate the public on issues
  • mobilize their members to vote
  • create voting blocs in Congress

Since the mid-nineteenth century, two political parties have dominated in American politics: the Republican and Democratic parties. The two parties differ on social, economic, and domestic policies. They also hold different beliefs as to the role of government. The Republican Party supports relatively powerful state governments with less involvement on the federal level, while the Democratic Party supports a strong centralized government with less power on the state level. Other current political organizations include the Green, Libertarian, Reform, and Socialist parties.

Exercise 2

Choose the best answer based on the information provided about political parties.

  1. Which of the following conclusions about political parties is best supported by the passage?
    1. They should be outlawed because they are not mentioned in the Constitution.
    2. The Know-Nothings and the Whigs are still influential political parties today.
    3. Political parties have an influential role in the political process today.
    4. It's hard to tell the Democratic and Republican Parties apart these days.
    5. Third-party candidates can alter the outcome of an election.

Voting and Elections

To vote in the United States, a person must be 18 years old and a U.S. citizen. Presidential elections occur every four years, and Congressional elections are held every two years. Most national elections in the United States use a plurality system, which means that a candidate need only receive more votes than his or her opponent to win. In contrast, some European nations have proportional representation. In this system, if a political party earns 15% of the vote, it would be awarded 15% of the parliamentary seats.

In the United States, primary elections are held before general elections. In primaries, voters give their preference for a political party's candidate. General elections then decide the ultimate winner. In the United States, the presidential election is unique in that the popular vote does not necessarily determine the outcome of the general election. That is because the president is actually elected by the Electoral College, a constitutionally mandated representative body to which the states send delegates. States are free to allocate their electoral votes in any way they see fit; currently, all but two states use a "winner take all" system, meaning that a presidential candidate who wins the statewide election for president receives all of the state's electoral votes. Under this system, it is possible for a candidate to win the presidency even if he or she loses the nationwide popular vote. In fact, this has happened three times in U.S. history—in 1876, 1888, and 2000.

Exercise 3

Questions 1 and 2 are based on the following map.

Voting and Elections

  1. This map shows the results of the popular and electoral vote in the presidential election of 1960. Which of the following conclusions does the map support?
    1. The winner of the popular vote always wins the electoral vote.
    2. The electoral vote is a more accurate reflection of the people's will than is the popular vote.
    3. If Richard Nixon had won Louisiana's ten electoral votes instead of Kennedy, Nixon would have won the election.
    4. All Southern states supported Kennedy in the 1960 election.
    5. The electoral vote results can distort the results of the popular vote.
  2. According to the map, which state did NOT use a "winner take all" system to allocate its electoral votes in 1960?
    1. New York
    2. Oklahoma
    3. Tennessee
    4. Virginia
    5. Wyoming
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