POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

US Vice President

The Vice President of the United States, also knowns as VPOTUS or Veep, is an important position in the executive branch of federal government. The Vice President is probably best known as being “a heartbeat away from the presidency”, meaning that if a sitting President dies or is impeached, the Vice President takes over. However, constitutionally, the main responsibility of the Vice President is the role of President of the Senate. Under Article One, Section Three of the US constitution:

“The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.”

As head of the upper house of congress, the Vice President votes on legislation or other motions only when Senators are deadlocked 50-50. This has occurred 243 times and involved 35 different Vice Presidents. Whilst in the past the Vice President would actively preside over Senate proceedings, nowadays its customary that they only get involved in order to break a tie.

The only other formally recognized duty of the Vice President is to preside over and certify the tally of electoral college votes after a Presidential election has taken place.

Informal Roles of the US Vice President

However, the role also brings with it many visible, informal responsibilities. These would typically vary depending upon the relationship between the President and Veep of the day, but have typically included:

  • Making public appearances representing the President
  • Performing ceremonial duties in place of the President
  • Acting as an adviser to the President
  • Meeting with heads of state or government of other countries

Selection of the Vice President

Potential US Vice Presidents must fulfill the following criteria by being:

  • a natural born US citizen
  • at least 35 years old
  • a US resident for at least the previous 14 years

Other than this, vice presidential candidates don't require any special qualifications. In practice, however, most candidates have served in Congress, and some have been high ranking military officers or state Governors.

Vice presidential candidates run together with presidential candidates in an election on a "joint ticket" as a "running mate". This means that once the vice presidential candidate for each party has been confirmed, voters are then essentially selecting the President and Vice President as a single package. In theory, vice presidential candidates are selected at National Conventions by the party as a whole once the Presidential candidate has been announced. In reality, however, standard practice has been that Presidential candidates effectively choose their own running mates.

The first US Vice President was John Adams, serving from 1789 to 1797. The current office holder is Mike Pence. 

See also: Executive Branch, US Senate, US Presidential Election

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