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Civic Engagement and Voting: Elections

This guide shares resources and strategies for learning about socio political issues in order to vote or otherwise participate in civic discourse. It also details local resources for getting involved as well at UNLV and local events.


There are a variety of different elections citizens can vote in from Presidential, Congressional, to State and local elections. This page of the guide outlines the types of elections in the U.S., what they involve, and the impact these elections have on our everyday lives. 

Books and Videos

Related Guides

Election Types and Timelines

Not only are there various elections, there are also different contexts and timelines to consider for each.

  • Presidential Elections
    • Presidential elections determine who represents you in the office of President of the United States
    • We vote on the President of the United States every 4 years
  • Congressional Elections
    • Congressional elections determine who represents your state in the United States Congress
    • We vote on congressional members every 2 years
  • State and Local Elections
    • These elections include voting for your state governor, city mayor, and other state representatives. 
    • State and local elections can take place any year and at various times throughout the year

Photograph: Women registering to vote in Las Vegas, Nevada, 1966 from the Clinton Wright Photograph Collection. PH-00379. Special Collections and Archives, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.

Elections Explained

Presidential Election

While citizens cast a vote for who they want for President, it is the Electoral College who decides who will be President. The Electoral College is a process where selected electors from each state cast votes for President and Vice President. Each state's number of electors is determined by their Congressional representation. For example, Nevada has four House Representatives and two Senators which means that during a Presidential election Nevada is allocated 6 electors (equalling 6 electoral votes). 

Why do the number of electors matter? Because out of the total 538 electoral votes possible, a successful President-elect is the candidate who has acquired at least 270 of the those electoral votes. A president-elect is the term used to describe the candidate who is presumed to be elected President based on this electoral process.

For a detailed overview of the Electoral College process, watch the TEDed video below. You can also check out the page on "What is the Electoral College?" from the National Archives. The website also has interactive forecast maps for Senate, House, Governor, and state elections, as well as a quiz to test your electoral college knowledge.

Congressional Elections

Congressional elections allow voters to choose one-third of U.S. Senators and every member of the House of Representatives. Congressional elections use the popular vote to decide who has won for each. These elections determine which political party holds a majority for both Congress and the House of Representatives for following two years after they are elected.

There's much to know and discover about the process and offices involved in Congressional elections, but here are some foundational resources you can reference as you approach fulfilling your civic duty:

  • U.S. House of Representatives - This page from details delegation information and requirements for becoming a Representative.
    • Find Your Representative - Get your information directly from the source! You can search for your State Representatives through your ZIP code.
  • U.S. Senate - This same page from also details delegation information for the U.S. Senate, including requirements for becoming a U.S. Senator.
    • Find Your Senators - Similar to the Find Your Representative tool included above, you can search for your State Senators through this tool by selecting your state in the "Choose your state" drop-down list.

State and Local Elections - Nevada

In addition to knowing who represents you in the House of Representatives and Senate, knowing who is elected into your local and state governments as well is also important. Researching Nevada representatives is an easy way to be a more informed and engaged Nevadan. Check out these resources below to learn more about who represents you here in Nevada!

  • GovTrack - GovTrack is a website that more information about Nevada district representatives, senators, and congressional district information. GovTrack also has a feature that allows you to search your address to show you who your representatives are.
  • ACLU Nevada - ACLU Nevada has information about Nevada district representatives and states representatives. ACLU Nevada also provides information for all of the county governments in Nevada.
  • Nevada Legislature - The Nevada Legislative website is one resource that you can reference to stay current on all things regarding the state's legislative body (offices related to areas of state and local government that impact the law-making process, operations, budgeting).
  • Clark County Elections Department - This is a great place to learn more about local Clark County elections, the Clark County Elections Department.

So What About Primaries and Caucuses?

Primaries & Caucuses

For some states, primary elections, or primaries, determine which candidates will be nominated to represent a political party in the general election. By general election, this simply means an election in which candidates are selected for offices, such as the Presidency or House of Representatives. To find upcoming primary election dates, you will need to check your specific state deadlines.

If the state you're voting in doesn't host primaries, then a caucus is how your state determines partisan candidates. These are meetings run by each partisan (political) party. Caucus participants separate into groups based on the candidate they want to support and deliver speeches to persuade undecided voters within the party to nominate a specific candidate for the general election. Discussions and voting from a caucus ultimately lead to the selection of a candidate for that political party for nomination. For more information about caucus dates for your state, reach out to your local state or election office.

Something to keep in mind is that there are three types of voting periods in primaries and caucuses: open, closed, and semi-closed. Below you can learn a bit more about each one!

Open - Open primaries or caucuses mean that anyone who is registered to vote can cast their vote for any political candidate regardless of the platform the candidate is running on. For example, someone who is registered as a Republican is able to vote for a candidate that is running on a Democrat platform.

Closed - Closed primaries or caucuses mean that that you can only vote for political candidates that are running on the platform of the party that you are registered with. For example, if you are a registered Republican, you will only be able to vote for the Republican candidate.

Semi-closed - Semi-closed primaries or caucuses are a combination of the other two primaries. In a semi-closed primary, voters who are registered as Republicans or Democrats have to vote for candidates who are running on the platform of the party they are registered with as they would during a closed primary, but if you are registered as an unaffiliated or nonpartisan voter or an independent voter, you can vote for either party. 

Learn More

USA.Gov - This page from USA.Gov has great information to learn more about congressional, state, and local elections for where you live!

NCSL.Org - There are many different types of state and local elections; a city may elect its mayor, there might be races for judges or local officials, or there might be statewide elections for governor or state legislature. Check out this page from the National Conference of State Legislature to learn more.

U.S. Vote Foundation Election Dates and Deadlines - To find out when the next elections are for any state, you can search through this site from U.S. Vote Foundation. Nevada has been pre-selected from the drop-down menu, but you can select any of the 50 states from the list.

Clark County Historical Election Results and Related Data - This site contains historical election results and related data including official election results, early voter turnout summaries, and ballot questions in Clark County.

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