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Who Qualifies to Be a U.S. President?

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As the Presidential Primary Elections come to a conclusion and the nominees for each party are decided, you may wonder, how can a person qualify to be a U.S. President? Such a relevant and timely question deserves an answer! 

It is your right as a U.S. citizen living abroad to vote in Federal Elections wherever you presently reside. The U.S. President is democratically elected by U.S. citizens including those who cast their ballots from abroad. The outcome determines who is in the most powerful leadership position in the world.

Let’s examine who qualifies as the U.S. President and what powers the President has....

According to the U.S. Constitution, the President is the Head of the Executive Office and must be elected every four years. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution states, 

"The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America. He shall hold his Office during the Term of four Years."

To qualify, a candidate has to fulfill several requirements. To quote the U.S. Constitution regarding the U.S. President: 

"No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution1, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States." 2  

To put it differently, a candidate for the U.S. Presidency has to be at least 35 years old, has to have resided in the U.S. for at least 14 years, and is a U.S. citizen based on birth, or a so-called "natural born U.S. citizen."

Natural Born U.S. Citizen
A person can become a "natural born U.S. citizen" if they are born in the U.S. or are a legitimate child of a U.S. citizen. Examples are: 

  • Senator John McCain of Arizona qualified as a presidential candidate although he was born in the Panama Canal Zone as his parents were U.S. citizens. 

  • Governor George Romney of Michigan also qualified to be a Presidential candidate although he was born in Mexico. 

  • Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona qualified despite the fact that Arizona was not a part of the U.S. when he was born in 1909. 

Naturalized Citizens
The U.S. Constitution has also provided an exception to those "naturalized", meaning foreign-born U.S. citizens, who were not U.S. citizens prior to 1789, and became U.S. citizens at the Adoption of the Constitution in 1789. The first U.S. President George Washington, for instance, was born in 1732 at his family's plantation on Pope's Creek in Westmoreland County when the territory was still the British colony of Virginia.   

In sum, the U.S. Constitution requires the Presidential Candidate to be mature, committed, and loyal to the U.S. by being either born as or a legitimate child of a U.S. citizen. By being required to live in the U.S. for 14 years, the candidate would be aware of the country's issues.

According to the Constitution, the U.S. President is the Head of State and has the following responsibilities. Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution states:

"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

    He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointment are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.

    The President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session."

In simpler language, the U.S. President has several responsibilities: 

  1. First, the U.S. President is in charge of the United States military forces. They include the Army and Navy as well as the Militia, which, according to the Militia Act of 1903, is divided into "organized militia," like The National Guard and Naval Militia, and "unorganized militia," which comprises reserve militia. 

    The National Guard is a state-based military force that becomes part of the U.S. military's reserve of the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force once activated by the federal government. The Naval Militia is a state-based reserve military force comprised of reservists of the Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Coast Guard Reserve, retirees and volunteers. The U.S. President has the right to pardon all offenses except Impeachment.

  2. Second, the U.S. president has the right to sign treaties with foreign countries if the U.S. Senate approves them with a two-thirds majority. The U.S. President has the right to nominate and appoint Ambassadors, Ministers, Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and other Officers with the approval of the Senate.

  3. Third, the U.S. President has the right to fill all vacancies during the Senate Recess until the session's end.

To summarize, the U.S. President is an essential figure in the U.S. political system. Given the President's rights and responsibilities, exercising your constitutional right and expressing your democratic choice is important.

The Power You Have

With the 2024 presidential elections in the U.S. approaching, the question arises for many U.S. voters living abroad:3 “Why should I vote in the presidential election?” The answer is straightforward, “Because you can, and your vote counts!”

This year, the presidential elections are on November 5th, 2024. As a U.S. citizen living abroad, you have a special privilege to vote for the U.S. President, Vice President, U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. 

Many non-U.S. citizens you live among now wish they could vote for the U.S. President, and wonder why more U.S. citizens don't participate in an election so consequential. But YOU have the power to vote. Make sure to use it!

What's the Process to Vote from Abroad?

Register and Request Your Overseas Absentee Ballot

See All Overseas Voter Services

1 Foreign-born persons who had immigrated to the Colonies prior to 1789 and became 
2 U.S. citizens were qualified for the Presidency.
3According to Amendment 26 of the U.S. Constitution, U.S. citizens 18 or older have the right to vote in federal elections.

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