Monday, February 4

How Do Primaries Work?

Even though most Americans know that the Primary is the tool we use for choosing each party's Presidential candidates, many people don't realize exactly what that means.

How did primaries start?
Primaries emerged in the early 20th century as a democratic reform in the Progressive era. Oregon was the first state to enact a primary into law, in 1910. Primaries waned in popularity through much of the 20th century: As recently as 1968, the Democrats nominated a presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey, who did not run in a single primary. Post-1968 reforms have greatly increased the number of primaries.

What is a primary?
The primaries are votes within each party to decide who will be the candidate representing the party in the general election. When you vote in the primaries, you're actually selecting delegates to attend the party convention and vote for the candidate you voted for.

The Nitty Gritty
The number of delegates for each state is proportional to the population of that state. The Democrats use a higher ratio than the Republicans, which means they have more delegates overall.

For the Democrats, the delegates are split up based on how the vote went within the party in each state. For example, in Colorado, if Obama won 65% of the vote he'd get 28 of the 40 delegates. If Clinton got 27% of the vote, she'd get 12 delegates. If Edwards took 7% of the vote he'd got no delegates because it's not exactly a proportional split -- it's decided by majority in each district (the details differ from state to state).

The Republicans have winner-take-all primaries. So if Mitt Romney wins 51 percent of the vote, he gets all that state's convention delegates.

The primaries are essentially over when one candidate gets over half of the total national delegates, which gives him a majority at the convention. To track the number of delegates each candidate has won, you can visit this site.

The National Conventions
The delegates from each state meet at their party's National Convention to vote for the candidate they represent. If no candidate has a majority going into the convention, the candidate gets decided there. This year, the Democratic National Convention is August 25-28 in Denver, CO. The Republican National Convention is September 1-4 in Minneapolis/St.Paul, MN.

Both parties will fill out their conventions with "superdelegates," who are public officials or party officeholders selected by virtue of the positions they hold, and who are not bound to support a particular candidate.

The delegates determined in the primaries are committed to vote for their candidate only on the first ballot at the convention. After that, they can vote for anyone. In 2000, McCain "released" his delegates to vote for Bush so that Bush could have a unanimous vote.

The Platform
At the convention, the party delegates also write the official party platform. As was the case at the GOP convention in 2000, there was some controversy over whether the platform would oppose abortion, among other issues. Bush influenced the platform, but isn't bound by it, so the platform's abortion view differs from his.

The whole delegate system was intended to replace the "smoke-filled rooms" where powerful members of the party secretly chose a candidate. The Constitution doesn't talk about how party nominees are chosen, so every party can decide for themselves. Surprisingly, smoke-filled rooms and secret processes are perfectly legal; we just use this primary process because people like it better.

via & On the Issues


Coralie said...

Only a few of the Republican primaries are winner take all. Most of them operate on the same proportional system as the Democrats.

The reason the constitution doesn't mention how party candidates are to be chosen is because the founding fathers opposed a party system.

The Gang's All Here! said...

Thank you for a very succinct explanation of the whole system. Shaggy and I were just discussing it last night after school. I'll be sure to share this with him to help him further understand!


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