Have you ever wondered how many US senators there are, how a bill becomes a law or why we have the Electoral College? 

The Convention. Prior to a general election, there is a selection process to determine which candidate will appear on the ballot for a given political party in the nationwide general election. Political parties generally hold national conventions at which a group of delegates collectively decide upon which candidate they will run for the presidency. The process of choosing delegates to the national convention is undertaken at the state level, which means that there are significant differences from state to state and sometimes year to year. The two methods for choosing delegates to the national convention are the caucus and the primary.

Caucuses were the original method for selecting candidates but have decreased in number since the primary was introduced in the early 1900’s. In states that hold caucuses a political party announces the date, time, and location of the meeting. Generally any voter registered with the party may attend. At the caucus, delegates are chosen to represent the state’s interests at the national party convention. Prospective delegates are identified as favorable to a specific candidate or uncommitted. After discussion and debate an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates should be chosen.

The Primary. In the early twentieth century there was a movement to give more power to citizens in the selection of candidates for the party’s nomination. The primary election developed from this reform movement. In a primary election, registered voters may participate in choosing the candidate for the party’s nomination by voting through secret ballot, as in a general election.

There are two main types of primaries, closed or open, that determine who is eligible to vote in the primary. In a closed primary a registered voter may vote only in the election for the party with which that voter is affiliated. For example a voter registered as Democratic can vote only in the Democratic primary and a Republican can vote only in the Republican primary. In an open primary, on the other hand, a registered voter can vote in either primary regardless of party membership. The voter cannot, however, participate in more than one primary. 

In addition to differences in which voters are eligible to vote in the primary, there are differences in whether the ballot lists candidate or delegate names. The presidential preference primary is a direct vote for a specific candidate. 

 

Until tomorrow: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

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