Members of the House of Representatives serve two-year terms and are re-elected every even year. Senators, on the other hand, serve six-year terms, and Senate elections are staggered across even years, so that only roughly one-third of the Senate is up for reelection at any given time. Elections also differ from Senate races in that they are generally not decided by a majority vote of those who turn out to vote, but rather by winning votes in legislative districts. For example, if there are 30 seats in the Senate, then only 20 seats need to be won to take control away from the opposing party.
Who decides how districts are drawn? The Supreme Court has ruled that federal law requires states to have "fair" districting plans, which means that they cannot favor one candidate over another of the same political party. States must consider issues such as population density, existing political boundaries, and the number of members of a particular party in drawing their district maps. However, they are allowed to make some decisions about what factors should influence district designations most heavily. For example, if a state wants to create several competitive districts, it can do so by making certain areas more populous than others or by including or excluding certain neighborhoods within its borders. State legislatures also have the ability to draw their own district maps if they choose to do so; however, it is not required by law.
Every state, regardless of size or population, has two senators who serve six-year terms. In contrast to the House of Representatives, where all members are required to run for re-election every two years, only one-third of Senate seats are filled at each general election. The other two-thirds are replaced when their holders die or resign.
The Constitution does not specify how vacancies in the Senate are to be filled. Some states require elections to fill vacant seats, while others permit governors to make appointments that expire at the end of their term. Currently, 30 seats are vacant because members have died or resigned. Another 34 seats will become vacant this year due to incumbent senators winning election to another office. The number of vacancies will increase to 38 next year as a result of the recent mid-term elections where several senators were defeated or chose not to seek re-election.
Each state has its own process for filling vacancies in the Senate. Some states do not hold special elections unless there is some clear indication that the public wants them. Others may hold hearings and vote on various candidates before selecting someone to replace the deceased senator. Still others may use executive orders or other mechanisms to influence decisions about who will fill vacancies.
In most cases, if a senator dies or resigns and there is no successor elected to take his/her place, then the governor appoints someone to finish out the remaining months/years of the term.
An election is held in the state during the first week of November. If a member dies, resigns, or is unable to serve due to some other reason, then a special election must be held within 90 days of the vacancy occurring.
Each member represents an equal number of people, their states' congressional districts are carved up so that each district has about the same population size. District populations are based on the 2000 census, so if a district becomes less or more populous because of movement of people within or between states, then members are compensated by having their districts reapportioned out from time to time.
In addition to being elected by their voters, members of the House are also appointed by the president to various committees and boards. These appointments can affect how a member votes on issues before him or her. However, no member can remain on a committee after he or she has turned 30 years old. This ensures that there is always at least one new voice added to the House.
House elections are one of the most important factors contributing to the stability of our government. Since 1824, all but eight members have been re-elected.
A Senate term is six years long, therefore senators may seek for reelection every six years unless they are appointed or elected to spend the rest of a term in a special election. As of February 2015, there were no senators who had failed to stand for reelection. The last senator to face reelection was James E. Watson of Arkansas, who decided not to run again in 1990. If a senator dies in office or resigns, then the governor can appoint a replacement who cannot be more than twice as old as the deceased or retired senator.
The Constitution does not specify how often senators can be elected. Some countries with a Senate system limit each senator to two consecutive terms; others allow three or more consecutive terms.
In the United States, most states restrict their senators to one term. However, some states have different rules: Delaware's senators are limited to three consecutive terms but may also serve up to four non-consecutive terms. New York's senators are allowed three consecutive terms but cannot be elected again after eight years has passed since their previous election. Pennsylvania's senators are restricted to two consecutive terms but can run for an additional six years on a non-consecutive basis.
How frequently do senators face reelection? Up until 2013, senators were not required by law to be from different states than their seat. This meant that U.S. senators could live in one state and work in another without being challenged in an election. However, as of 2013, this rule has been changed and allows for some degree of geographical diversity among senators.
House members are currently not allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms (10 years). However, the current practice is for each representative to run for office again after his or her third term. The only exception is when a representative dies in office or loses a primary race against a fellow Democrat or Republican, then the party selects another candidate to compete in a special primary election. If the selected candidate also fails to win election to finish out the remaining term, then another person can be named to complete the remaining year and a half of the deceased or defeated incumbent's term.
The last time Congress was up for election during a presidential election year was in 2014. In that election, voters went to the polls to choose members of the House of Representatives and Senators.
Each state is represented by two senators who are chosen for six-year terms. One-third of the Senate is up for reelection every two years. Before 1913, senators were not required to be members of any political party and often served long terms.
Since the 1980s, many states have moved toward electing their senators in single elections, usually in November of an even-numbered year. Prior to this change, several states including California, Florida, Illinois, and New York held special elections to fill seats that occurred after the general election but before the start of the new congressional term. These Special Elections were often close and sometimes involved multiple races between candidates from different parties which required them to campaign across the country. Today, only Nevada has such an election and it is a non-partisan race.
Some states require their senators to be affiliated with a particular party. In these states, candidates run as "independent" candidates if they do not want to become part of a majority or minority party in the Senate. Most independents fail to win office because they do not have enough support from either major party. In most cases, independents cannot hold the presidency or senate because they need votes from both Democrats and Republicans.
There are also states where voters can choose any candidate from all the candidates running for office.