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A general election is an electoral process to choose most or all members of an elected body, typically a legislature.[inconsistent] They are distinct from by-elections, which fill a seat that has become vacant between general elections. In most systems, a general election is a regularly scheduled election, typically including members of a legislature, and sometimes other officers such as a directly elected president.[citation needed] General elections may also take place at the same time as local, state/autonomous region, European Parliament, and other elections, where applicable.[1] For example, on 25 May 2014, Belgian voters elected their national parliament, 21 members of the European Parliament, and regional parliaments.

In the United States, "general election" has a slightly different, but related meaning: the ordinary electoral competition following the selection of candidates in the primary election.[citation needed]

United Kingdom


The term general election in the United Kingdom often refers to the elections held on the same day in all constituencies of their members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons.[citation needed]

Historically, English and later British general elections took place over a period of several weeks, with individual constituencies holding polling on different days. The Parliament Act 1911 introduced the requirement that elections in all parliamentary constituencies be held on the same day. There has been a convention since the 1930s that general elections in Britain should take place on a Thursday; the last general election to take place on any other weekday was that of 1931.[citation needed]

Under the terms of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, in force until March 2022, the period between one general election and the next was fixed at five years, unless the House of Commons passed one of the following:

Although not provided for in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, an early election could also be brought about by an act of parliament specifically calling for a general election, which (unlike the second option above) only required a simple majority.[citation needed] This was the mechanism used to precipitate the December 2019 election, when the Early Parliamentary General Election Act 2019 was enacted.[3]

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act was repealed by the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Act 2022.[4]

The term general election is also used in the United Kingdom to refer to elections to any democratically elected body in which all members are up for election.[citation needed] Section 2 of the Scotland Act 1998, for example, specifically refers to ordinary elections to the Scottish Parliament as general elections.[5][need quotation to verify]

United States


In U.S. politics, general elections are elections held at any level (e.g. city, county, congressional district, state) that typically involve competition between at least two parties. General elections occur every two to six years (depending on the positions being filled, with most positions good for four years) and include the presidential election.[citation needed] "General election" does not refer to special elections, which fill out positions prematurely vacated by the previous office holder.[6]

Major general elections are as follows:[7][8]

  1. The President and Vice President are elected once every four years (2016, 2020, 2024, 2028, etc.)
  2. Representatives in the House of Representatives serve two-year terms, and so there are elections for representatives every two years (midterm elections, and during the same year as the Presidency: 2020, 2022, 2024, 2026, etc.)[failed verification]
  3. Senators serve six-year terms, but their terms are staggered. Throughout the US, a third of the senate will be up for election every midterm and during the Presidential election year.[failed verification]

The term general election is distinguished from primaries or caucuses, which are intra-party elections meant to select a party's official candidate for a particular race. Thus, if a primary is meant to elect a party's candidate for the position-in-question, a general election is meant to elect who occupies the position itself.[citation needed] Presidential primaries happen several months before the general election, though not all states hold primaries.[9]

In the Louisiana the expression general election means the runoff election which occurs between the two highest candidates as determined by the jungle primary.[10][failed verification]

See also



  1. ^ "What Is a General Election?". BBC Newsround. April 7, 2015. Retrieved 2023-03-29.
  2. ^ a b c "Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 as enacted".
  3. ^ Pichetal, Rob (29 October 2019). "Britain set for December 12 election after MPs approve snap poll". Cable News Network. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  4. ^ Merrick, Rob (11 May 2021). "Boris Johnson Grabs Back Power to Call Snap General Election By Scrapping Fixed Five-Year Terms". The Independent. Retrieved 31 July 2022.
  5. ^ "Scotland Act 1998".
  6. ^ "general election". LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  7. ^ "Congressional elections and midterm elections | USAGov". Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  8. ^ "Presidential general election | USAGov". Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  9. ^ "Presidential primaries and caucuses | USAGov". Retrieved 2023-12-31.
  10. ^ Chapter 5 of the Louisiana Election Code, incorporating Section 18:401 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes.