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Electing the President

Caucuses were the first method for selecting candidates for president but have decreased over time with the introduction of the presidential primary election in the early 1900’s.  A caucus can be compared to an informal town hall meeting.  Generally, voters from a particular party gather at designated caucus sites which can be schools, public buildings or homes.  Typically the voter has to be a registered member of the party and old enough to legally vote in the general election. The size of the caucus can range from just a few people to several hundred participants.  Each party sets the rules for conducting their caucuses, and party delegates are chosen based on their candidate’s support at these caucus meetings, or remain uncommitted.

In a presidential primary election, voters can participate in choosing their party’s nominee by voting at the polls, like in a general election.

There are two types of primaries for president, the open and closed primary.  In a closed primary, a voter can only cast a vote in their own party’s election.  For instance, a registered Democrat may only vote in the Democratic presidential primary election in their state, the same goes for the Republican.  For the open primary, a registered voter can vote in either primary, but cannot vote in more than one.  In a few states, a combination of the primary and caucus are used.

Delegate Selection
Both major parties establish the number of delegates to their conventions from each state.  Generally, Democrats base state delegation totals on population and Democratic voting strength and party leaders.  Republicans largely base their delegate numbers on congressional delegation size and state GOP success in presidential and state elections.

The Democratic and Republican party use different ways to award their delegates to a particular presidential candidate.  The Democrats use a proportional method reflective of a candidate’s results in a particular state’s caucus or primary. For example, if a candidate garnered 60% of the vote in a ten delegate state, he or she would get 6 delegates.  The other candidates would also be awarded delegates proportionately, but must receive over 15% of the vote.  Republicans, however, allow states to choose if they want the proportional method or winner-take-all.  In a winner-take-all state, any presidential candidate getting majority support receives all of the state’s Republican delegates.


Sources:  The Green Papers, Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, Project Vote Smart​

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