How To Become President

With this being a Presidential election year here in the U.S., it’s an excellent time to teach kids about the election process.  Then, they can share in the excitement leading up to the election (and even watch as the U.S. state map  becomes red and blue on election day!).

In this post we’ll talk about the job of the U.S. President, who can run, and how the election process works.  There are links to some fun videos and activities, and even a link to receive a free poster on the Presidential election process!

So without further ado….

What is the job of the U.S. President?

Oval Office
Oval Office
  • According to the U.S. Constitution, the President has two jobs: chief executive of the federal government, and Commander in Chief of the armed forces.
  • As chief executive, he enforces laws, treaties, and court rulings; develops federal policies; prepares the national budget; and appoints federal officials. He also approves or vetoes acts of Congress and grants pardons.
  • As Commander in Chief, the president has the authority to send troops into combat, and is the only one who can decide whether to use nuclear weapons.

Why Would Someone Want To Be President?

The White House
The White House

Well, other than the obvious power to make foreign policy decisions and approve laws, there are some significant perks of the job:

  • Salary of $400,000 per year and another $100,000 for travel expenses
  • Live in the White House, which has a private movie theater, pool, library, gym, dining room, basketball court, putting green, jogging track and bowling alley. Plus, staff including chefs, butlers, maids and groundskeepers
  • Private medical team
  • Spend time at Camp David – a secure vacation resort
  • Use of the armored presidential limousine
  • Use of Air Force One jet and Marine One helicopter
  • Secret Service protection
  • Retirement pension of $191,300 per year for the rest of your life

Who can run for President?

The basic rules on who can run are simple: “Qualifications for presidential candidates have remained the same since the year Washington accepted the presidency. As directed by the Constitution, a presidential candidate must be a natural born citizen of the United States, a resident for 14 years, and 35 years of age or older. “  Reference:  Library of Congress

In order to run, you must file a FEC Form 2 within 15 days of declaring your candidacy.

FEC Form 2

FEC Form 2

Here’s the link, in case you want to go ahead and file one!

The reality though is that, while many are eligible to run for President, only a small number of people will actually do so – because it is so expensive to travel around the country, advertise your platform, and get people interested in electing you.  That money comes from supporters, and generally supporters will only support those they believe could win – which would likely be those well-connected and well-known already, due to their political experience or fame.

How the President is elected

Ballot Box
Ballot Box

Step 1: Primaries:

  • There are 2 powerful political parties in the U.S. that each will put forth a candidate for President in the election. All who wish to participate announce their candidacy and then affiliate with one of the parties.  The parties then hold primaries to select the candidate that they will support in the election – these are basically smaller party-specific elections to determine the best choice.  A candidate can affiliate with a party other than the two largest, or can even create their own political party – but due to the money required to run for president, generally only these two candidates have a reasonable chance of winning the election.
  • For older kids – a more detailed description is available at

Step 2: Voting Day

  • Voting day is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.
  • All voters must register in advance, and then must either go to a polling location to vote or request and file an absentee ballot prior to Voting Day.
  • At the end of the day, all votes are tallied, and the votes per candidate announced.

Step 3: Electoral votes: 

  • The presidential election is actually a two-step process: the people in each state vote, and the votes are counted.  Then, the electoral votes for that state are voted for the winner in that state’s election.  There are 538 total electoral votes, and they are allocated amongst the various states based on the population in each state.   A candidate needs 270 of them (more than half) to win.
  • You can see how many electoral votes your state has in this map:

    Electoral College Map
    Electoral College Map
  • The classic School House Rock video “I’m Gonna Send Your Vote To College” talks about this process – if you don’t have the videos you can find it on YouTube.

Resources and Activities:

  • A free poster on “How to Become President of the United States” is available from
  • The election process is covered in the School House Rock Video “Presidential Minute” – if you don’t have a copy, check YouTube.
  • An excellent video on the election process for older kids is the “Election Basics: Crash Course Government and Politics” video, available at
  • Older kids can play the “Win The White House” game at – a simulation on running your own Presidential campaign.
  • Kids through middle school age will enjoy the PBS Kids site “Step Inside the Voting Booth” page. It has some  historical information on voting, and a form to fill out to vote yourself!
  • “Vote!” By Eileen Christelow is an excellent book on the voting and election process, targeted at kids through middle school age – lots of information and colorful illustrations.

Declare Yourself!

Ballot for President
Ballot for President

Although you may not be able to run for President of the U.S. this year, you can likely run in a local election.  Perhaps you can set up an election for Family Event Planner or other less contested position as a start.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Write your platform – here’s a document to walk you through it:  Write Your Campaign Platform
  • Announce your candidacy – perhaps with a formal speech to prospective voters
  • Advertise your qualifications. Create posters and post them.
  • Set up a voting booth, so voters have privacy while voting
  • Create ballots – for instance, write the name of the position to be elected at the top of an index card, and then list the candidates who are running. Add a line for write-in votes if you like!
  • Create a secure ballot box, such as a shoebox with a slot cut in the top, for people to place their ballots after they have voted. This will not be opened until all votes have been cast and it is time to count them.
  • Announce the time and place of the election to all who are able to vote.
  • Hold the election!
  • Once the election is completed – open the ballot box, and tally the votes.
  • Announce the winner!