America’s voting system is crazy — here’s what you need to know

(CNN) – It may be a long, raucous and rambling road to the White House, but choosing the next American president is anything but simple.

While many voters won’t pay attention until a few weeks before Election Day, running for president takes years of active planning, fundraising and calculation. But when should you start caring? And what’s the difference between a caucus and a primary? Here’s what you need to know about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Why do U.S. presidential elections take so long?

America’s two main political parties — Democratic and Republican — choose their respective nominees through party-sponsored contests in each of the states and U.S. territories, a process that starts in February and takes up to five months.

Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally kick off the process early in the year, and then other states follow — but before that, candidates have typically spent a year laying the groundwork for campaigns in those regions. Once each party has a candidate, they spend the rest of the summer and autumn campaigning until the general election on November 8.