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2024 US Presidential Primaries, Explained

Every four years in November, Americans come together to vote between two candidates to become President of the United States, but how exactly are these two candidates chosen?


It's a wonky process called “primaries”, and this process has evolved over the course of the country's history and is still changing today.


Here is everything you need to know about this process : 

What exactly is a primary?


In order to reach the final ballot in a general election, candidates must first go through a grueling primary election process (usually split up between each political party), where they are awarded delegates based on local state elections, and a candidate must reach a specific number of delegates in order to progress into the general election and represent their party.

When will the winners of the primaries be announced?


March 5th, commonly called “Super Tuesday”, is the night where the largest pot of delegate votes are allocated, while on this day alone there won't be enough delegates to secure a nomination, it is the day where Republicans in 16 states will vote, giving a great indication on who the frontrunner will be.


Mathematically a candidate could win enough delegates by March 12th, but the winner to secure enough votes is usually found anywhere from May to June, as the final presidential primaries happen on June 4th.


Who is allowed to vote in a primary?


Voting is conducted in polling places just like any other election, however some states have what is called “closed primaries”, where only registered members of specific political parties (usually either Democrats or Republicans) are allowed to vote in their respective parties' primaries. Other states have what are called “open primaries” where anyone can vote in any primary regardless of what party they are a part of. 


How is a presidential candidate chosen if multiple candidates win in party primaries in different states?


Delegate votes can be earned either be divided up and shared proportionally to the election results, or the delegates can be given in a winner-take-all system. A few states even have a threshold system, where every candidate who attains over a certain number of votes is entitled to delegates. 


In Democrat run primaries, delegates are given out proportionally these days, while in Republican primaries this year require that states before March 15th will also work in a proportional system, however after March 15th they will be allowed to switch to a winner-take-all format. 


If no candidate wins a majority of the delegates in the primaries, what happens?


The vast majority of delegates in both Republican and Democratic primaries are what are called “bound delegates” in Republican primaries or “pledged delegates” in Democratic primaries. These delegates head into a convention with their votes already unofficially made to a specific candidate.


However a few delegates are “unbound” or “unpledged”, and in Republican primaries these delegates can vote for whoever they want from the beginning. On the other side these “unpledged delegates” in Democratic conventions do not vote in the first round of voting as their votes could impact the outcome.


If however there is no majority winner after the delegates vote, there are then additional rounds of voting where all bound delegates become unbound and all delegates are allowed to vote on whoever they wish to, this is called a “brokered convention”. This scenario is incredibly rare however, and the last brokered convention to take place happened in 1952. 


How did the U.S adopt this system?


The “primaries” system has evolved over the country's history, as presidential candidates used to be chosen solely by congressional delegations. The first election to include political convention for party members happened in 1832 with the Anti-Masonic Party, with Andrew Jackson winning the presidency. 


The switch to a more democratic system with primary elections as they are today happened in 1968, when violence broke out in the Democratic National Convention in Chicago because Democratic party leaders had chosen to nominate then Vice President Hubert Humphrey over Eugene McCarthy who was staunchly anti-war. 


When and where will the 2024 conventions take place?


The DNC (Democratic National Convention) will occur from August 19th to the 22nd in Chicago.


The RNC (Republican National Convention) will occur from  July 15th to the 18th in Milwaukee.


Are all primaries split between Republicans and Democrats? 


All primaries for the presidency are, but for other governmental positions (such as for the Senate and Governor offices) they are not. A number of states are beginning to adopt nonpartisan primaries, in which all voters and candidates fight it out in one primary election, with the top candidates (regardless of their party membership) squaring off on election day.


Will third party candidates have their own conventions?


Yes, both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party are expected to put forth a candidate on the ballot for the presidency in most states, and the candidate put forward will be chosen at their own respective conventions.


However, while you will be able to vote for them spending on your state, the last time a third party candidate was awarded any electoral votes in a general election was 1968.  

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Image "2016 U.S. presidential election party, Riga, Latvia" by Kārlis Dambrāns is licenced under CC BY 4.0 DEED


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