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Hartwick College's Student Newspaper

The View From Oyaron Hill

How Do Elections Work?


Josh White

Despite the regularity with which public elections occur, their inner workings, and those of presidential elections in particular, are not always clear. Since we are currently in the middle of the presidential primaries, here’s a crash course in how presidential candidates are elected.

The road to the White House begins with primary elections and caucuses, which despite popular misconceptions do not operate in the same way, though they are designed to serve the same purpose. Caucuses and primaries are designed to determine which presidential candidates the voters in local counties support, and which delegates they wish to represent them at the state- and nation-wide nominating conventions of each political party.

At a caucus, local voters assemble in meetings where they are asked to either raise hands or form groups in order to show which presidential candidate they support. Most often, only registered voters are permitted to attend caucus meetings, and they are only permitted to attend the caucus meetings of the political party with which they are affiliated. Today, only Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Iowa use the caucus system exclusively, while all other states use either only primary elections or a combination of caucuses and primaries.

Primaries, on the other hand, use a secret-ballot voting system to determine which presidential candidates the local voters support, and which delegates will represent the choices of their constituents at the nominating conventions. There are also two types of primaries. Open primaries allow any registered voter to vote for any candidate; closed primaries require registered voters to vote only for candidates from the political party in which they are registered. New York is a closed primary state.

After the primaries and caucuses are concluded, the candidate from each political party with the most delegates becomes that party’s sole presidential candidate. However, the number of delegates per candidate is complicated by the presence of super-delegates. Super-delegates are high-standing members of the Republican and Democratic parties whose votes in the National Party Conventions carry slightly more heft than the votes of their parties’ regular delegates. Superdelegates in the Democratic Party are chosen on the basis of their positions within the party, and in the Republican Party they consist simply of the state Republican Committee Chairman and two other Republican National Committee members. In addition, Democratic superdelegates are “unpledged” and can choose to vote for any Democratic candidate, whereas Republican superdelegates are obligated to vote according to the results of the nationwide presidential election.

In the Republican Party, a potential presidential candidate needs at least 1,237 delegates out of 2,472 to gain the Republican nomination as reported by the Republication National Committee. In the Democratic Party, a candidate needs 2,383, out of 4,765 to win the Democratic nomination as reported by the Democratic National Committee. Currently, VOX.com has reported Republican candidate Donald Trump in the lead with 389 delegates, while Ted Cruz has 300, Marco Rubio has 152, and John Kasich has 37. From Bloomberg.com’s reporting the Democratic Party has Hilary Clinton with 1130 delegates, 458 of whom are superdelegates, and Bernie Sanders has won 499 candidates, 22 of whom are superdelegates. However, all of the aforesaid superdelegate votes are subject to change. All delegate statistics are current as of March 7, 2016.

The candidates chosen at their respective conventions through the primary process will represent their sides in the general election in November.