ChibaSplaining – Caucus vs. Primary

With the 2016 presidential election campaign season FINALLY getting started this year (koff!), I thought it worth discussing the differences between a caucus and a primary.  (I asked seven people today if they knew the difference – and they didn’t.)

Both a caucus and a primary are ways for states to decide who is going to run for president in the general election.  Each results in the selection or assignment of delegates that will speak for a certain candidate at a political party gathering later in the year, generally in the summer.

There are no hard and fast rules, so much of what I’m putting down here are generalizations.  There will always be exceptions to these rules.

CAUCUS

  • Originated in the American Colonies before the United States existed
  • Voting is public, sometimes by people simply raising their hands
  • Only registered voters may participate
  • Registered voters may only vote for candidates from their party
  • Often benefits candidates with highly organized volunteer groups supporting them due to the public nature of the voting
  • Caucus states/territories:  AK, CO, HI, IA, KS, ME, MN, NV, ND, WY, American Samoa, Guam, Virgin Islands

PRIMARY

  • Came into common practice in the early 1900s
  • Voting is by secret ballot
  • Only registered voters may participate
  • Types of primaries
    • Open Primary – any registered voter (including Independents) can vote for any candidate
    • Semi-Open Primary – any registered voter (including Independents) can vote, but they must vote on a party-specific ballot
    • Closed Primary – registered voters may only vote for candidates from their party; this excludes registered Independent voters
    • Semi-Closed Primary – registered voters may only vote for candidates from their party; Independents may vote, but they must vote on a party-specific ballot

The reason for the caucus and primary process is to assign delegates to candidates for counting at the party convention in the summer of the election year.  The candidate with the most delegates becomes that party’s candidate for president.  Some states assign delegates proportionally – that is, if a candidate receives 20% of the primary votes, that candidate gets assigned 20% of the state’s delegates and the rest are assigned based on how many votes the other candidates got.  Other states assign delegates in a winner-take-all fashion; if there are seven candidates and the top candidate receives 20% of the votes, that candidate gets 100% of the state’s delegates and the rest of the candidates get none.  This delegate variance is reflected in the Electoral College, which is the state-level mechanism that determines who wins a presidential election.

Voting is the only real power the common citizen has in the United States, and it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.  I encourage every citizen of voting age (currently 18 or older) to get educated about the candidates and vote in every election possible.  Politicians talk endlessly about change this and change that, but the only people who can truly put change into motion are voters.

Fist