friend who teaches Civics to a homeschool group asked me if I would
speak to her class about elections. I accepted eagerly, as I thought it
would be a good learning experience for me, as well as a nice
opportunity to help prepare the students to become voters. Having
worked at the polls as a precinct election official and polling
location manager for a number of years, I am familiar with the
procedures for processing voters and ensuring the integrity of the
election. I was more fuzzy on details about allocation of delegates;
what goes on at the National Conventions; and the way the Electoral
College works. It was indeed an interesting exercise to prepare for the
presentation. I thought that the document I wrote as a handout might be
something that OFRW members could use as a refresher and quick
ELECTIONS IN THE
are Candidates Selected?
Rules vary by state, and the Secretary of State for each state is
responsible for setting and applying the regulations and laws regarding
state, county, and local elections in that state. County Boards of
Elections are responsible for receiving and approving petitions for
candidacy, and for running elections.
If there are two or more applicants to
the candidate of a particular political party, the candidates will be
on the ballot for a primary election. The primary election will then
determine who will be the candidate for each party.
races, such as those for judges, are non-partisan, meaning that the
candidate does not run as a member of a political party. For these
races, there may be several candidates, not identified by party, on the
is the Difference between a primary election and a caucus?
Primaries and caucuses are methods that
political parties use to select candidates for a general election.
A primary is a state-level election in
party members vote to choose a candidate affiliated with their
political party. Party candidates selected in a primary then run
against each other in a general election. Thirty-four U.S. states
(including Ohio) conduct primary elections. In Ohio’s 2016 primary
election, there are four parties with candidates who have met the
requirements to run, so there are four different ballots. Each voter is
asked when signing in which ballot he or she prefers. That information
is recorded, and that voter is then officially affiliated with that
party until the next primary election, when each voter will again be
asked to designate a choice of ballot.
is a local meeting in which registered members of a political party in
a city, town, or county gather to vote for their preferred party
candidate and conduct other party business. Caucuses are typically used
in combination with a state convention to elect delegates to the
national nominating convention for presidential elections.
caucus is the oldest method of choosing delegates in the U.S. Sixteen
states hold caucuses to determine political party candidates.
May Vote in a Primary or a General Election?
Since 1971, with ratification of the
twenty-sixth Amendment to the Constitution, U. S. citizens who are at
least eighteen years old may register to vote. Until 1971, the minimum
age for voting in the United States was twenty-one. Registration in
Ohio must be accomplished one month prior to election day. In Ohio, a
citizen who is seventeen years old, but who will be eighteen years old
at the time of the general election, may vote in the primary election,
but only for nominating candidates, not for issues. There has been a
recent controversy about Ohio’s law and regulations for 17-year-old
voters. Seventeen-year-olds, according to the Ohio Secretary of State,
may not vote in the primary for the delegates who will nominate the
presidential candidates. This is because the delegates are elected, and
the law states that 17-year-olds may vote solely on the nomination of
candidates. (Note: as I write this, the situation is perhaps still
fluid. I read this morning that a judge has ruled that 17-year-olds
must be permitted to vote for the presidential contenders.)
are national candidates determined for the Presidential election?
A person who is interested in being a candidate for federal office must
apply to the Federal Elections Commission. In times past, political
party bosses had the primary role in determining the candidates that
would be designated by their states’ delegates at the national
nominating convention. Over time, primaries and popular participation
have largely supplanted the handful of party bosses in determining who
will be the Democratic and Republican nominees for the general election.
In primary elections and caucuses, by selecting one’s preferred
candidate, a voter is actually electing a delegate to the party’s
national nominating convention, held in the summer before the election.
Both 2016 conventions will be held in July; the Democratic Convention
will be in Philadelphia, the Republican in Cleveland.
The parties differ in the way they allocate and select delegates to the
National Convention. Each contender selects delegates (and alternate
delegates) who will go to the convention if that person is still in the
race by that time. Delegates are typically people who work to support
and assist a candidate in his or her campaign, and who are believed to
be loyal and to have no potentially disqualifying or embarrassing
Some states allocate delegates
some states are “winner take all” meaning that all delegates are turned
over to the contender who wins a plurality of the vote. Ohio is now a
“winner take all” state.
In order to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, a
contender must win 1,237 delegates of the roughly 2,472 delegates
expected to be present at the Convention. Republicans have three types
of delegates: congressional district delegates, at-large delegates, and
Republican National Committee members. Republicans assign three
delegates to each congressional district in a state; how strongly a
district has supported GOP candidates in previous elections does not
impact the district’s number of delegates. Each state has ten at-large
delegates, plus three Party officials who vote at the convention.
States also are awarded bonus delegates, based upon the political party
affiliation of state and federal elected officials. For example, Ohio
has five bonus delegates: one due to our having a Republican governor,
one by virtue of electing one Republican to the U.S. Senate; one for
having elected Republicans to 50% or more of their U.S. House
delegation in the last election; one for having a Republican majority
in one chamber of the state legislature; and one for having elected a
Republican majority to both chambers of the state legislature.
The process is more complicated for the Democratic Party. In order to
win the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, a contender must win
2,383 delegates’ votes out of the 4,765 expected to attend. There are
two basic types of Democratic convention delegates: pledged and
unpledged. An aspiring candidate wins a share of the pledged delegates
in a primary or a caucus if he or she receives at least 15 percent of
votes cast. Pledged delegates are expected to support the contender to
whom they are allocated.
The Democratic Party
allocates Congressional district delegates proportionally, based on the
results of the primary or caucus in a congressional district. At-large
delegates are allocated proportionally based on the statewide results
in the primary or caucus. Pledged party leaders and elected officials
are delegates by virtue of their office, and can include statewide
elected officials, state legislators, local elected officials or party
The Democratic Party also has
so-called Superdelegates, including distinguished party leaders and
elected officials, who are seated automatically and choose whom they
want to vote for. This practice has contributed to the criticism that
the Democratic Party does not run elections democratically, as in the
case of Hillary Clinton gaining more delegates than her share of the
popular vote because of her having the support of superdelegates.
United States Presidential Nominating Convention
The formal purpose of the convention is to select the party’s nominee
for President; and to adopt a statement of party principles and goals
known as the platform, and also to adopt the rules for the party’s
Over time, and due to changes in election laws and the way in which
political campaigns are run, the conventions have become, for the most
part, scripted and ceremonial affairs, serving to rally voters to
support the party’s candidate. In 2016, it will almost certainly be
that for the Democratic Party. Due to the prolonged and fractious
nature of the Republican presidential race this year, their national
convention may be more interesting.
Conventions are typically held in major cities,
compete vigorously to be the site chosen, due to the significant
economic impact expected.
The party platform that
is produced in ordinarily a refinement of fairly longstanding
ideological statements. It provides a statement of principles that is
not binding on either the party or candidates.
Voting is ordinarily perfunctory, with no doubt as to which contender
will be the party’s nominee. Pledged delegates ordinarily vote as
expected, though they are not legally bound to do so. There has been
drama, such as in the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa.
Here, Ron Paul, the Libertarian Party choice, would not pledge his
delegates to Mitt Romney, the choice of the Republican Party power
structure, and so he was prevented from speaking and rules were changed
making it more difficult for an insurgent candidate to garner
delegates. Some people believe that there was resulting disaffection of
Ron Paul supporters that led them to stay home on election day, thereby
hurting the Republicans. Since the 1970’s a single ballot has been
sufficient to select the nominee. Each delegation announces its vote
tallies, accompanied by some boosterism of their state or territory.
The Vice Presidential candidate has, in recent decades, been nominated
by “acclamation” rather than by the roll call of the states used for
the Presidential nomination.
If, by the time of
the convention, no single Republican candidate has won a majority of
the delegates, a “brokered convention” would result, in which a
candidate would be selected through political horse-trading and lesser
candidates pressuring their delegates to vote for one of the
front-runners. We may see such a scenario this year.
losing candidates during the primary season will release their
delegates and encourage them to vote for the winning nominee so as to
build and demonstrate party unity.
The general election is always held on the first Tuesday after the
first Monday in November, in years divisible by four. Absentee voting
originated as a way that people who were infirm or housebound could
exercise the franchise. In recent years, absentee voting has been
promoted as a means of increasing voter access and turnout. Absentee
ballots are completed and mailed or hand-delivered to the Board of
Elections. In Ohio, absentee ballots must be received at the BOE by the
closing of the polls on elections day. Every registered voter in Ohio
is mailed an application for an absentee ballot several months prior to
a general election. When a voter appears at the place of election, the
voter list will indicate whether that person has requested an absentee
ballot. If yes, that person may only vote provisionally, meaning that
the voter uses a paper ballot, rather than the voting machine, and that
ballot will be counted only if it is assured by examination at the
Board of Elections, that the voter had not mailed a marked absentee
ballot. Active-duty military stationed
their home and U.S. citizens living abroad, must request a ballot to
mail to their Board of Elections. A controversial rule mandates that
military people must re-register to vote each year. This is viewed by
many as a means of suppressing the military vote, which is usually
Early voting is another recent
innovation, with voters invited to go to the Board of Elections and
vote beginning a month prior to the actual election day. This is
another way on increasing turnout. In the case of a primary election,
both early voting and absentee voting cause many votes to be cast in
vain. For example, many people have voted for presidential contenders
who have dropped out of the race since they cast their votes.
When a voter presents at the place of election, he or she is asked to
state their name and address, and is asked for some identification. In
Ohio, which has fairly strict voter ID law, there are several forms of
- Government-issued photo ID
that is current and includes
the residential address, except in the case of A military ID, which
does not indicate the residence.
- A utility bill, bank
statement, government check or paycheck that contains the correct name
and current Address of the voter.
- Some other forms of
government documents, which are current and contain correct name and
If the voter shows satisfactory proof of identification and is listed
as a registered voter in the voting precinct in which the polling place
is located, he or she is allowed to vote as a regular voter.
A voter must vote in the precinct in which he or she resides. Voters
who show up at the wrong polling place are directed to their home
Voters who do not meet the
requirements for voting as regular voters are allowed to vote
provisionally which, again, means that they will mark a paper ballot.
The ballot is placed in a special, sealed envelope and it will be
examined at the Board of Elections to determine whether it is valid and
can be counted.
The U.S. Electoral College is the institution that actually elects the
President and Vice President. Citizens do not directly elect these
officials; instead, voters directly elect designated intermediaries
called “electors” who almost always have pledged to vote for particular
presidential and vice presidential candidates and who are themselves
selected according to the particular laws of each state. There are 538
electors in total. This includes one for each member of Congress; one
for each Senator; and, by the Twenty-third Amendment, 3 to the District
Except for the electors in Maine
and Nebraska, electors are elected on a “winner take all” basis,
meaning that all electors are pledged to the presidential candidate who
wins the most popular votes in the state. Maine and Nebraska select
electors according to the popular vote in each Congressional district,
and the remaining two (for the two Senators) by statewide popular vote.
The candidate who receives an absolute
majority of electoral votes, currently 270, wins the election.
use of the Electoral College, rather than election by popular vote is
argued unendingly. Arguments against it mainly revolve around the
possibility of electing a president who does not capture the majority
of the popular vote; the possibility that voters will lack enthusiasm,
since their state will have the same number of electoral votes whether
their turnout is high or low; and the risk (almost never realized) that
electors will not vote for the candidate endorsed by the people.
Defenders of the Electoral College cite its contribution to national
cohesiveness because it requires a distribution of popular support to
elect a President; its enhancement of the voting power of minority
interests; its contribution to political stability by encouraging a
two-party system; and its role in maintaining our system of federalism
in government and representation.
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