Lesson Objectives:- The McGovern-Fraser Commission
- Different types of primaries
- The caucus system
- Early primaries
- The national convention
- When no candidate gets a majority
A run for president actually includes two separate campaigns. First, there is the primary, and then whoever survives that runs in the general election.
In 1968, a huge riot broke out at the Democratic convention in Chicago calling for changes to the nomination process. The McGovern-Fraser Commission was put in place to make those changes and one major change was that delegates are elected by the voters in the primary election rather than chosen by party leaders.
Each party votes for the delegates who will represent them on the national and state levels, even though these delegates are not legally bound to vote the way the party votes. In addition to delegates, there are also superdelegates.
Superdelegates are party leaders or elected officials who are given the right to vote at the party’s national convention. Superdelegates are NOT elected at the state level.
Before all that though, the actual race begins with the invisible primary. The Invisible Primary is a pre-primary campaign to win support among elected officials, fundraisers, interest groups, and opinion leaders.
In the case of the 2016 Republican primaries, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker were out on the road in 2014 drumming up support for their campaigns.
Throughout the states, primaries and caucuses are held to choose the candidates that will be running for various offices. There are two main types of primaries.
The Direct Primary is a primary election in which voters decide party nominations by voting directly for candidates.
The Indirect Primary is a primary election in which voters choose convention delegates, and the delegates then determine the party’s candidate when they meet at the national convention. Presidential candidates are usually selected through an indirect primary.
The winner-take-all method is used in most primaries, but there is also the proportional method which is based on how many votes a candidate receives in the primary. Depending on the number of votes received, that candidate will receive that same percentage of delegates.
In a Closed Primary, only voters which belong to that party are allowed to vote.
In an Open Primary, a voter can vote in either party primary (but must vote for candidates of only one party).
In open primaries, independent voters get a say in who goes on to the general election.
Some states have a system in place called a run-off, which means there is a second primary in cases where a candidate does not receive a majority of the votes. The candidates who are in the run-off are the top two candidates from the first primary.
In another form of primary, the Top-Two Primary is a system where all the candidates are placed on one ballot. A party has no power to remove a candidate from the ballot, which comes into play when they have their candidate of choice but another candidate affiliated with that party is also running. No matter what party they are affiliated with, the top two candidates receiving the most votes continue to the general election.
The road to the general election is often paved with caucuses. The Caucus System is a meeting of party members to select candidates and propose policies.
In many states, voters get together in a caucus at the precinct level to choose the delegates to the district convention. The district convention then chooses the delegates to the state convention and the state chooses the delegates to the national convention. Those delegates pledge to reflect the voting preferences of the voters.
Different states hold their primaries at different times. Candidates know that they need to campaign early to win primary elections in the early states so that they can be considered the front-runner.
The Front-Runner is the presidential candidate who appears to be ahead at a given time in the primary season.
In response to candidates campaigning in the states that had early primaries, the states themselves realized that early primaries were more influential to the overall outcome of the presidential election. This resulted in a trend called front-loading, which is the practice of moving presidential primary elections to the early part of the campaign to maximize the impact of these primaries on the nomination.
With front-loading came concerns that some candidates would get nominated before most voters even had a chance to learn about them. So, the Democrat and Republican parties attempted to remedy this by only allowing traditional early primaries to continue; other states would need special permission to hold an early primary.
States who did not follow the primary schedule could be punished by getting their number of delegates cut or not being seated at all. But, those punishments have proven difficult to impose.
Since 1832, the national conventions have chosen the presidential candidates in every election. It is a solid system that utilizes a credentials committee to help choose delegates.
A Credentials Committee is used by political parties at their national conventions to determine which delegates may participate. The committee inspects the claim of each prospective delegate to be seated as a legitimate representative of his or her state.
Even though delegates normally come to the convention already decided on a candidate, the activities at the convention still have a purpose. They are televised, which means that uncommitted voters in the viewing audience could be influenced.
An elector is a member of the electoral college, which selects the president and vice president. Each state’s electors are chosen according to state laws in the year of the presidential election.
This system was put in place because the framers of the Constitution never wanted the election to be in the hands of an emotional and uneducated people. Not all voters fall into that category, but the fact that they exist was enough of a concern. Delegates are chosen because they are supposed to be select people who are reasonable and unemotional.
Each state selects their electors according to their own process. On the road to the general election, electors are pledged to vote for the candidate that has been chosen by the American people. The number of electors for each state is the same as the number of senators and representatives combined.
The electors are expected to vote the way the country votes, but the Constitution does not require it. Faithless electors have voted their own way before.
Because there are 538 total elector votes, a presidential candidate must receive 270 electoral votes to win. If that does not happen, the House decides from the three candidates with the highest votes. In that case, each state has one vote.
The Senate then chooses the vice president from the two candidates who had the most votes. Each senator gets a vote.