The Election Process

Mar 31, 2016

Your Voice Your Vote Part 1

The election for the 58th President of the United States has political discourse in full swing. Voting U.S. citizens are part of a process that determines which candidates end up on the November 8 ballot, but that process can be very confusing. 

To understand how the Democratic and Republican party nominees are selected and how voters are part of the procedure, it helps to first understand caucuses and primaries, which are the two different types of elections used by the states and U.S. territories to choose delegates. Below is also information about how delegates are awarded and what a superdelegate is.

The presidential nominee for each party is chosen by a simple majority of the party’s delegates. 
●    The total number of available delegates for Republicans is 2,472, which means a total of 1,237 delegates are needed to secure the nomination. 
●    The total number of Democrat delegates is 4,765, which means 2,383 delegates are needed to win the Democratic nomination.

It sounds simple enough to say a simple majority wins, but the details about how that is achieved are complicated. Each state and political party sets their own rules to determine the number of delegates per the primaries or caucuses held. The varying state-by-state rules for choosing delegates understandably add to the confusion surrounding delegate selection. 

A caucus is a private meeting of eligible voters coming together to choose who they want as the state delegates for their party. Voting eligibility at a caucus is determined by the individual states. In most states, being a registered voter verifies eligibility. In other states, participants must simply be of voting age by the date of the November election.

Fourteen states and five U.S. territories hold caucuses, and all of the remaining states have primaries. Caucuses take place in various venues, such as churches, school auditoriums and homes. Political parties hold separate caucuses, which sometimes occur on different dates.

The 14 states that select delegates at caucuses are: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Washington and Wyoming. The following U.S. territories hold caucuses: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 

The first caucus for the current presidential election was held in Iowa on February 1, 2016. The last caucus is the North Dakota Democratic Caucus on June 7. 

The following are common caucus procedures. Keep in mind that specifics regarding rules of procedure are determined by the individual states:
●    Meetings are held in neighborhoods across the state. The gatherings are called “precinct caucuses.” There may be many or few in attendance, but all must meet eligibility requirements for voting in a caucus.
●    The primary purpose of a caucus is to talk politics and vote for the preferred presidential candidate. 
●    Presidential candidates are voted on by show of hands, gathering in like-minded groups or using a secret ballot. 
●    Once the votes have been cast and counted, they are announced and sent to the state party. 
●    Volunteers at the meetings also have the opportunity to be elected as delegates to attend various election conventions.
●    In both parties, some delegates are determined based on statewide caucus results while others are assigned according to congressional district results. 

A primary is a preliminary election in which presidential delegates are chosen. All but the 14 states named above, plus the District of Columbia, select delegates by way of primary elections. Most states have open primaries or closed primaries and others have mixed, semi-open or semi-closed primaries. 
●    In an open presidential primary, any registered voter can vote in any party’s primary. It is not necessary for the candidate voted for to be a member of a specific party. Missouri is among the many states with an open primary.
●    A closed primary is limited to registered party members, and they must announce their party affiliation prior to voting. The purpose of a closed primary is both to encourage unity among party members and to prevent infiltration of the system by members of other political parties.

The first primary was held in New Hampshire on February 27, 2016, and the final primary election for the 2016 presidential nominee will be in the District of Columbia on June 14.

During the Missouri presidential primary held on March 15, 2016, voters chose a ballot for the Democrat, Republican, or Libertarian party. In Missouri, there is no party registration and no records are kept regarding which party voters choose. The Democratic ballot included nine candidates, the Republican ballot named 12 candidates, and the Libertarian ballot named five presidential candidates.

How are Democratic Delegates Awarded in Missouri? 
Missouri awards 82 Democratic delegates to the Democratic National Convention. During a presidential primary, 71 of those delegates are apportioned based on primary results. Another 13 delegates are awarded by superdelegates.

Of the 71 delegates determined during the primary election, 47 are determined based on how well each presidential candidate does in each of eight congressional districts. Anyone who gains at least 15 percent of the vote qualifies to receive delegates. Remaining delegates are divided proportionately among candidates. 

How are Republican Delegates Awarded in Missouri?
Missouri has 52 delegates to the Republican National Convention. In the March 15 primary, the Missouri Republican Party only awarded delegates to candidates actively campaigning. In Missouri, if anyone receives a majority of the votes cast for active candidates, he or she is awarded all 52 delegates. If no one receives the majority, here is how delegates are awarded:
●    12 delegates go to the candidate with the most votes statewide.
●    5 delegates are awarded for each of the eight congressional districts a candidate wins.

With this system, even without a majority of votes, a presidential candidate could still be awarded all 52 delegates. 

What is a Superdelegate?
Superdelegates are high-ranking members of the Democratic Party, such as Democratic governors, Senators and members of the U.S. House. Superdelegates, who make up about 30 percent of all Democratic delegates, represent only themselves and can vote however they want. [They can choose to ignore the will of the voters at state primaries and caucuses.] 

The superdelegate structure was put into practice beginning in 1982 to prevent fringe candidates from winning the Democratic nomination and to ensure that the names of mainstream candidates show up on November ballots. The superdelegate system makes for a predictable outcome in the Democratic Party.

CBS political reporter Rebecca Kaplan points out that there are no superdelegates, per se, in the Republican party. Each of the 50 states can have up to three appointed delegates, those being the state party chair, the national committeeman, and the national committeewoman. All delegates are required to support the candidates who win their state primary, which makes the selection process for the Republican presidential candidate unpredictable.

National Conventions
The Republican National Convention will be held on July 19-21 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. The Democratic National Convention will be July 25-28 in Philadelphia at a venue to be disclosed. At the conventions, the final steps are taken with much fanfare to officially name the respective party nominees for President and Vice President of the United States.

When none of the presidential candidates win the majority of the delegates, a brokered convention is held. Brokered conventions and electoral colleges will be the focus of the April issue. 

About the Writer

Stephanie McHugh

Contributing Writer

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