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Arab America Picks a President: What is a caucus and primary, how do you participate in them?

posted on: Feb 24, 2016

We’re well into the presidential election and the candidates are traveling from state to state following the calendar of caucuses and primaries.

So, what is a caucus and a primary and how do I participate in them?

Let’s say you belong to a large organization such as the PTA. The PTA national convention is coming up and the chapters select members to go to the convention to vote for the national officers.

The presidential election is like that. Democrats and Republicans send delegates from their states to the conventions to select their candidates for president.

Your votes for the candidates get them convention delegates. The more voters they receive, the more delegates they get.

While the voters have the opportunity to select their party’s nominee, the state parties select the method. Some states parties will select a caucus and some will select a primary.

It’s likely that you have voted in a primary. A primary is administered by the state like any other election. In some cases, the voters must be a member of the party and/or agree to support the party nominee even if your favorite candidate does not win the primary. Generally, these types of agreements are not binding as you are free to change your mind about a candidate.

A caucus comes in two forms: one is a is a meeting of voters who form up into groups to be counted for a candidate and the other is to vote for candidates and leave the caucus location. Remember the Iowa caucus? The Republicans voted and left and the Democrats met in at 7:00 pm to vote.

States set minimum vote percentages for the candidates. In some states, the candidate must receive 15% of the number of votes to have any delegates. Those with fewer then the state requirement will get zero and their votes will go to the others on a pro-rata basis.

In a caucus, there are fewer voters as a high percentage of the voters are party activists. Primaries tend to open the voting to greater numbers of voters including independents (in some states.)

With more party loyalists participating in the caucus, the party can have better control of the process reducing the possibility of outsiders hijacking the election.

Primaries open the process to more outsiders. That’s good but it increases the risk of crossover from the other party voting for the weakest candidate.

On the other hand, primaries are great opportunities for candidates to meet voters with different views. This sharpens the candidate’s skills in dealing with voters in the general election. It’s like spring training in baseball.

One more benefit of primaries. All 435 members of congress 34 senators will be elected in the general election. They will see the presidential primary results for all precincts in their districts and states. This provides these candidates with information on how many Republicans and how many Democrats voted and how conservative or liberal the vote went. They get an indication of how the vote might go in their elections in November.

What do the candidates get?

Delegates. The candidates add delegates to their totals based on the percentage of votes they receive in each state.

In July, delegates will go to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia or the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. There, they will formally vote for their candidates for president and vice president.

How many delegates are needed for a win? Even that is different between the parties! Republicans need 1,237 and Democrats need 2,383. In addition to the delegates, the parties select alternate delegates to attend the conventions. That’s a lot of delegates from each state and that means more opportunities for you to participate.

You can be a delegate!

While the numbers of delegates and the selection process differs from state to state, you can vie to be one of them. Get active in your local political party and volunteer on a campaign.

After the caucus and primary results are in for your state, numbers of delegates and alternate delegates for each candidate will be determined. By working to support the candidate of your choice, you’ll demonstrate that you are needed to go to the convention and vote for your party’s presidential candidate.

Both parties are interested in diversity among their delegates and that includes Arab Americans. The Republican Call to Convention requires each state to “take positive action to achieve the broadest possible participation” including those in “minority and heritage groups.” The Democratic Call to Convention requires their “ongoing efforts to include groups historically under-represented in the Democratic Party‚Äôs affairs, by virtue of race, ethnicity.”

Yalla, finish reading this article, look up the contact info for your candidate or party office and start your journey on becoming a delegate!


Fred Shwaery

Arab America Contributing Writer