These days, it seems that anyone can run for office. We may end up with similar people as the final Democrat and Republican nominee, but the original field is broad.
Is this just a hyperbolic reaction given the recent campaigns?
Just what are the presidential requirements and qualifications?
What are the requirements and qualifications to become President of the United States?
While you might expect a massive list of requirements and clauses to make sure we get the best possible candidate, that isn’t the case. A lack of amendments to the Constitution means that the only qualifications relate to residency, a minimum age, and previous terms in office. From there, pretty much anyone can put themselves forward. There is nothing about upper age limits, health, or criminal convictions. You just have to meet the minimum requirements, get on the ballot, and then hope for the nomination.
2020 was the perfect year for highlighting the lack of restrictions and the potential need for further amendments.
The final candidates for the Republicans and Democrats were reality TV star Donald Trump and 78-year-old Joe Biden. Biden has previous political experience. Therefore, the race for the Presidency felt like a logical career move. Trump has this now, after one term in the Whitehouse, but nothing prior. Meanwhile, Kanye West put himself in the running, showing that anyone that wants to run can at least try. The reason for this comes down to the wording of the US Constitution.
Article 2 of the US Constitution.
The original Constitution contains Article 2, which addresses this subject of presidential qualifications. It applied to the role at the time of the formation of the USA and remains in place today. The article states the following three clauses:
- that the President has to be a natural-born citizen of the United States.
- that they have to be at least 35 years old
- that they have to have been a resident of the United States for 14 years.
These three key points highlight issues with the process. It is why there was such a furor about Barack Obama’s birth certificate during his race for the Whitehouse. It is also why UK PM Boris Johnson could run if he moved to the US, reclaimed his dual-citizenship, and waited 14 years.
Furthermore, there are some interesting questions about the term “natural-born citizen.” US territories don’t have the same rights as states but allow US citizenship for children born there. For example, those born in Puerto Rico after 1940 are natural-born citizens and eligible to run for President. However, military bases in foreign countries aren’t considered US soil, so children born there aren’t natural-born citizens. Instead, they gain citizenship from their parents. Subsequently, they cannot run for President.
Other important criteria aren’t taken into consideration.
There are factors that the American public would consider highly important when choosing a candidate, yet they aren’t mentioned in the current regulations and guidelines.
- An upper age limit for candidates.
- The health of the candidate.
- The possession of a criminal record.
There is no upper age limit. Age is something that has garnered criticism because of the negative implications of swearing in a senior citizen. President Biden is 78, and there are questions over why the Democrats couldn’t have found a younger, fitter, more relatable candidate.
A related concern is that presidential candidates don’t have to publicize their medical history or information about current health issues. While there is an argument for allowing candidates their privacy, others argue that it helps to know that candidates are fit for office. That doubt increases when your candidates are 74 and 78. A medical exam requirement could put voters’ minds at ease and lead to discrimination against certain disabilities and mental health conditions.
Also, nothing is preventing you from assuming the role if you have a criminal record. This is a surprise to some voters who expect their candidates to be respectful of the law and model citizens. While some voters could overlook some smaller state-level crimes that are inconsequential, bigger Federal crimes are another matter.
The 22nd Amendment on the maximum number of terms in office.
In addition to these regulations on minimum age and residency, there is an amendment about the number of terms served. The 22nd Amendment came into effect via ratification on 27 February 1951. It states that a candidate may only be elected to the office of President for a total of two terms or eight years. These terms don’t have to be successive, but you can’t run for a third. The Amendment came about after the four-term Presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt.
It is unclear if Donald Trump will try to run again in 2024 or head back into other ventures. If he wanted to, the 22nd Amendment would allow him the right to put his name forward and try again. On the other hand, Barack Obama won two terms back-to-back, so he is ineligible to run again.
Qualifying candidates then face a simple process to run for President.
If you meet all of the criteria, the process of running for President is also surprisingly streamlined. There is a 4-step process to run when you meet the requirements. First, fill out a form of a statement of candidacy – something not always necessary unless you’ve received more than $5,000 for your bid. Then, get on the ballot for your chosen party or as an independent. Once you’re on, you can take part in the debates to get the votes in the primaries. If you then win the nomination, you can continue on the election trail and wait for votes to come in on the final night.
In short, the presidential requirements and qualifications are short, sweet, and relatively unchanged from the days of the Constitution. So if you are a natural-born citizen with 14 years of residency, are over 35, haven’t served two terms before, and are willing to go through the process, you might just get elected.