The Vice Presidency: Appointment, Role & Duties

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  • 0:01 Vice President
  • 1:31 Appointment of the V.P.
  • 4:01 Role of the V.P.
  • 6:10 Duties of the V.P.
  • 7:28 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley has a JD degree and is an attorney. She has extensive experience as a prosecutor and legal writer, and she has taught and written various law courses.

The United States vice president is elected alongside the president, and serves as our nation's second highest-ranking public official. This lesson explains the appointment, role, and duties of the U.S. vice president.

Vice President

John Adams once wrote, 'My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.' What position do you think he was talking about? It was our nation's vice presidency! That's right. Our first ever vice president thought the position was useless.

The United States vice president is the nation's second-highest ranking public official. The office of vice president, along with the presidency, is created by the United States Constitution. The position and its responsibilities are listed in Article II.

Recent vice presidents, like Dick Cheney and Joe Biden, are high profile officials and played large government roles. Vice President Cheney was known for making important policy decisions, sometimes even without the knowledge of then-serving President George W. Bush. Vice President Biden serves more in an advisory role to President Barack Obama. Either way, John Adams' statement had some truth to it. The role of vice president started as an insignificant position, but grew over time.

Let's take a look at the appointment, role, and duties of the U.S. vice president.

Appointment of the V.P.

Let's first look at how the vice president is appointed. Today, presidential nominees choose their running mates. A running mate is a vice presidential candidate whose name will appear along with the presidential candidate's on the voting ballot. Together, the presidential candidate and the vice presidential candidate make up the political party's ticket.

For example, John McCain and Sarah Palin made up the 2008 Republican Party's ticket. Once John McCain was nominated for president by the Republican Party, McCain then selected his running mate. He was largely free to choose whomever he wished, though most presidential candidates attempt to use this opportunity to further bolster their public appeal.

The vice president is then elected, along with the president, through the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a body of electors chosen by the voters in each state to elect the president and vice president of the U.S. Generally, each state is assigned a certain number of electors, based on the state's population. When a voter, like you or me, casts a vote, the vote is applied toward the electoral vote. The state then casts its electoral votes according to the number of popular votes each candidate received.

For example, Kansas has six electoral votes. If Democrats Obama and Biden win the popular vote in Kansas, then those six electoral votes will be cast for Obama and Biden. Texas, on the other hand, has 38 electoral votes. If Republicans Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win the popular vote in Texas, then those 38 electoral votes will be cast for Romney and Ryan. Each of the electoral votes counts as one vote for president and another vote for vice president.

However, this wasn't the original process. Prior to the 12th Amendment, which refined the process by which the president and the vice president were elected, our vice president was simply the runner-up. Electors used to only vote for the office of president. The candidate with the second greatest number of votes became vice president. This system may have contributed to Adams' and other early vice presidents' frustration!

Role of the V.P.

Now let's take a look at the role of the vice president. The Constitution tells us that the president serves as the head of the federal government's executive branch. Though the vice president is often considered to be the president's ceremonial assistant, the Constitution doesn't assign the vice president to a specific branch of government. Some experts believe the vice president serves in the executive branch, while others believe the vice president is part of the legislative branch.

This is probably because the Constitution limits the role of the vice president to only two responsibilities. The first is executive. It is to fulfill the role of president should the president become unable to fulfill his or her duties. The second is legislative. It is to preside over the Senate.

Most people are familiar with the duty to succeed the president. The vice president steps into the presidency if the president dies, becomes disabled, resigns, or otherwise becomes unable to perform his or her duties while in office. This is known as presidential succession and is perhaps the vice president's most important role.

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