Every two years, voters elect all of the members of the House and one-third of the Senate. Although the Constitution lays out certain rules about how members of Congress should be elected, the states determine the details of elections, such as who can vote, how the votes will be counted, and the appearance of the ballots. There are three types of congressional elections: primary elections, general elections, and special elections.


Type of Election


Primary ElectionContest between candidates within a party to choose the party’s nominee
General ElectionContest between all party nominees and independent candidates; the winner becomes a member of Congress
Special ElectionContest to replace a member of Congress who leaves office in between regular elections

Midterm elections are general elections that fall between presidential elections (or in the middle of the president’s term). The general election of 2002, for example, was a midterm election because it fell between the general elections of 2000 and 2004 in which George W. Bush was elected and then reelected president.

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