Texas is holding its primary election on March 3rd and is part of what is known nationwide as “Super Tuesday.” But let’s suppose you are fairly new to politics and perhaps have slept since high school civics. You may not know exactly why we have primaries or how they work? Here are the basics.
First off a Presidential primary is basically how states choose which candidate is going to be their candidate of choice for the November General Election. Now that sounds pretty simple, but truth is that it is actually pretty complicated.
Some states have primaries and others hold caucuses. Here in Texas we have primaries. The biggest difference between a primary and a caucus is how the election is administered. A primary is simply what you might think as a typical Election Day where the polls are open all day, you go wait in line, hit your button and at the end of the day the local officials tally them up.
A Caucus is a bit different. With that style of voting you go to a specific location, at a specific time and you gather with other people and stand to be counted. You gather into groups for your specific candidate and the merits of the candidates are decided. Attendees (known as caucusers) can switch between candidates as the debate and counting continues. There is no secret balloting there! This process continues until there is a clear winner.
Oh, and by the way: while parties are dickering back and fourth about who will win, if you leave before it is all over your vote in a caucus does not count. But it may not matter anyhow, which I explain in more detail later.,
One note about Primaries and Caucuses is that it up to the states as to which system is used. Also, New Hampshire by design holds the nation’s first primary. They have built it into their state constitution. But wait! I thought Iowa had theirs first before New Hampshire? They kind of do. But New Hampshire has a primary and Iowa has a caucus.
In the national general election almost anybody who is a legal American citizen can vote for President unless you basically live in a territory or a jail. Primaries however are in-state elections governed by party rules. Some states, like Texas have “Closed Primaries” meaning that only registered party members can vote. A downside to that system is that if you are an independent voter in a place like Texas, you are just as we say here “s—t out of luck.”
Some states do offer semi-closed primaries that allow independents the opportunity to vote in whichever party election that they choose to vote in.
Other states have what are called “open primaries” meaning that people can choose whichever primary they wish to vote in. But now we are going to throw a kink into it. What if you live in a territory or out of the country? Good question.
While voters in territory states cannot vote for President in the general election, they can vote in the Primary. And those who live outside of the United States essentially vote together as a separate voting bloc—kinda of like a whole other state.
But what is “Super Tuesday” and what does it mean? Well, that is complex in and of itself because while New Hampshire might always be number one, some states try and jockey for position as to who votes on what day. Say if Florida tries to jump past Virginia and hold their primary first, you can see Virginia attempt to “punish” Florida by taking some of their delegate votes away. So how do you avoid this? You join with other states and vote on Super Tuesday!
So this whole time you were thinking that you were voting for a candidate, right? Wrong. You are voting to give your vote to a delegate who gives their vote to a candidate. In some states, the delegates MUST vote as the people said. However, in other states delegates can vote pretty for whichever candidate that they want. But who are these people?
In short they are party henchmen who desire to yield some sort of control over people. They can be state party representatives or general party leaders. Basically, the more people that live in your state means the more delegates your state has. We just call them “party drunks” for fun.
After all the states have held their party primaries, they will go to a national convention where things get even more complicated.
At a national convention you run into this problem known as “Super Delegates” who are top party brass such as Congressmen and party wonks. They go to the convention not to represent the people, but the current part establishment AND they can vote for whoever they want. Depending on the party rules, “Super Delegates” can make up as much as 20% of a parties vote at the convention.
Usually by the time a party convention rolls around all of the weaker candidates have dropped out of the race, so it is not usually a big deal. But, as is very likely to happen with the Democratic Party this year, no clear winner could be made before the convention. AND, that makes it even more dirty. It then becomes contested.
A contested convention is when party delegates and super delegates band together and decide on who is going to get the nomination. In theory, these Super Delegates and Delegates could end up defying the will of the people.
So, you see the road to just getting a nominee is not even that simple and yes, fundraising is a huge part of it—especially if a party convention becomes contested. Yes, in theory you vote counts. But in opposing theory, it doesn’t. But at least now you know how Primaries and Caucuses work and how they are different.