A primary is another system of electing delegates with a mandate to vote for a given candidate. Unlike caucuses, primaries are votes conducted by the government on behalf of the political party. This vote can be open, closed, semi-closed or semi-open. Open primaries allow citizens to vote in both parties' primaries; semi-closed only the primary for the party you belong to (independents may vote in these as well) and in closed primaries only registered members of a party may vote in that primary.
The specific rules for the conduct of caucuses and primaries will vary from state to state and between the different parties as well. Washington State has both a primary and a caucus. This adds to the complexity of the system, but provides each state with the opportunity to create a system that works best for their needs.
A presidential caucus is a caucus specifically designed for the selection of a given state's choice of a presidential candidate. In this scenario, the members of a party for the state hold a set of caucuses, which ultimately culminate in the nomination of delegates. For most states, those delegates are sent to the national convention with a mandate to vote for the candidate that the state chose for president.
A presidential primary is a vote to decide which candidate the citizens or party members of that state prefer for the presidential nomination. That state would then send delegates to the convention with a mandate to vote for that candidate. In some states, the delegates are split. For example, in the Kentucky democratic primary, Hillary Clinton received 65% of the vote, which amounted to 37 delegates; Barack Obama received 30% of the vote and therefore received 14 delegates. The Democratic Party uses proportional representation in their primaries, but a candidate must receive over 15% of the vote in order to get any delegates. The Republican Party does not use proportional representation in all states.
The caucuses and primaries are held starting in the winter of the election year. They are conducted over the course of several months. This allows the candidates time to adequately campaign in each state. The result of the caucuses and primaries is to determine the number of delegates each candidate can send from that state to the national convention. These delegates will ultimately determine the presidential nominee. Therefore, the primaries are an indirect election. In their early stages, they are an indicator of the popularity of each candidate, but as the delegate counts build the primaries ultimately select the unofficial presidential nominee for each party.
A candidate wins the nomination by winning a majority of delegates. The number of delegates varies for each party. Both parties have what are known as "unpledged" or "superdelegates." The candidate wins the nomination by winning the majority of both pledged and unpledged delegates. It is possible that a candidate could win the majority of delegates in the primaries but fail to win the nomination on the basis of the votes from the unpledged or superdelegates.
Both parties have unpledged delegates. That is the term used by the Republican Party; the Democratic Party uses the term superdelegates.
These are differentiated from regular delegates in that they go to the convention and are free to vote for whomever they wish. The regular delegates are sent with a mandate to vote for a specific candidate. In other words, their vote is already "pledged." The superdelegates often pledge themselves before the convention, but they do not have to. The superdelegates in the Democratic Party are typically high-ranking party officials. In the Republican Party, unpledged delegates are elected in the same manner as pledge delegates, and they may be pledged. They are less likely to have voting freedom than a Democratic superdelegate.
Each party's convention has a different number of votes required to win. For each party, it is over 50% of the total vote, made up of all types of voting delegates. In the Democratic Party, the total number of votes is 4047, meaning that to win the nomination a presidential candidate must have 2024 votes between the delegates and the superdelegates. There are 3253 pledge delegates for a Democratic convention, so in theory it may not be known who the winner will be, although in practice many superdelegates announce their allegiance in advance of the convention. The Republic Party has 2380 total delegates. As with the Democrats, a simple majority will give a candidate the nomination. In this case, a Republican presidential candidate must have the support of 1191 delegates to win.
Each party's national convention serves a dual purpose. The first purpose is for the delegates to cast their vote for the party's nomination for president. Pledged delegates must vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged, while unpledged candidates may vote for whichever candidate they prefer. In practice, however, there is typically only one candidate left by the time the convention is held. Therefore the convention is essentially an inauguration ceremony. The other purpose of the convention is to hold a large rally and launch the successful candidates presidential bid. The convention represents the official beginning of the presidential campaign and serves as a tool to rally the party for the battle ahead.
3) Presidential Elections and the Electoral College
The Electoral College is a system whereby electors are given the duty to vote for a particular candidate. In the United States, this system is used for presidential elections. The public votes for their choice of a presidential candidate. Those votes empower the electors who make up the college to vote for the candidate. In most states, the Electoral College system is based on a winner-take-all philosophy, whereby the presidential candidate who wins the majority in the public vote will receive all of the Electoral College votes for that state. Each state is free to choose their method; however, so one or two states have developed their own variants.
There are 538 Electoral College votes in the United States presidential elections. These are divided among the states in amounts roughly proportional to population. The states with the most Electoral College votes are California (55), Texas (34), New York (31), Florida (27) and Pennsylvania and Illinois (21 each). Ohio has 20 votes and there is a dropoff after that. The states with the lowest amount of votes are Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Vermont and Delaware with 3 votes each. The District of Columbia is awarded the same number of votes as the state with the lowest total, so it also receives 3 votes.
The electors are the official voters for president. They vote on the basis of the way their state has voted. The electors officially vote on December 15, 2008 to select the president. Electors represent the individual state, and are therefore governed by the states. A faithless elector is someone who casts a vote for someone they have not been pledged to elect. There are laws in some states to punish faithless electors. Faithless electors are rare, but have existed in the past.
To win the election a presidential candidate must receive 270 electoral votes. Since the number of elector votes possible is an even number, the possibility exists of a tie between presidential candidates. Under this circumstance, the next president is determined by the 12th Amendment. The House of Representatives would choose the next president. To do so they would cast votes by states to choose between the top three candidates. The vice president would be chosen by the senate. If the House cannot agree by the end of the previous presidential term, that president would continue until a person is qualified to occupy the presidency. Since the introduction of the 12th Amendment, the House has chosen the president just once.
Some of the benefits of the Electoral College system is that is allows for the smaller and rural states to retain influence over governmental proceedings. More importantly, it also rural areas to continue to have influence, as their votes are part of the larger state vote.
Another key benefit to the Electoral College system is that it maintains the federal system. The United States is a federation of states, and the Electoral College system supports that because the presidential election is essentially the product of 51 individual presidential elections. The Electoral College also promotes a two-party system, which some feel is essential in that it keeps minority or regional interest groups out of power until they can win broad-based support.
The Electoral College system also has many drawbacks. Emphasis is placed on swing states, for example. Candidates do not campaign in states they believe to be safe, or that are safe for the other candidate. The entire campaign is focused on swing states that will turn the tide of the election. Some critics feel that this makes neutralizes the opinions of people in "safe" states, and that the election is always turned…