A general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are up for election. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.
General election is also a term used to differentiate from a primary election. In the United States, primary elections serve to narrow down a field of candidates, and general elections actually elect candidates to offices. The general election is usually held on Election Day, Tuesday after the first Monday in November of even-numbered years.
It meets the above definition of "general election" because the entire United States House of Representatives is elected on Election Day, though not the entire United States Congress. Before passage of the 17th Amendment, members of the United States Senate were not directly elected by the people but rather by their state's legislatures. Though Senators have been directly elected since then, only one-third of them are available for election on any given General Election Day. The U.S. President is also chosen during a November General Election that follows primaries.
General elections in Great Britain refer to the election of Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons; these must be held within 5 years and 1 month of the last one, but are often held before that time as it is up to the parties in government when to call a general election. The current Labour Party government have held general elections every four years since coming to power in May 1997 and thereafter in June 2001 and May 2005. Therefore another election is not legally obliged to occur until June 2010.
General elections in Britain traditionally take place on a Thursday; the last general election not on a Thursday was that of 1931.
The five year limit on the time of a Parliament can be varied by an Act of Parliament. This was done during both World Wars; the Parliament elected in December 1910 was prolonged to November 1918, and that elected in November 1935 lasted until June 1945. The House of Lords has an absolute veto on any Bill to extend the life of a Parliament.