A Primary Primer

The primary system we use here in the USA has always sort of mystified me. I imagine there are more ways to complicate the electoral process, but this whole concept of “delegates” does the job pretty well. It was some time before I could wrap my head around the idea that, in the primaries, the person you are voting for is not the person for whom you are voting.

Turns out, when you look at the ballot, you will see a list of names you recognize &#8212 Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, etc. &#8212 and there will be boxes next to each name for you to check. However, checking one of these boxes does not mean your voterly duty is complete. On the contrary, checking one of these boxes really doesn’t mean crap. The important boxes come next, where you will see a list of names you will probably never have heard before, with the famous names in parentheses next to them. These are the delegates, and this is where your vote actually counts for something. Because today, we do not vote for the candidates we wish to see running in the general election. That would be too easy. Today, we must select delegates to attend a convention, where they will select the candidates for whom we will vote in the general election. We choose which delegates to vote for on the basis of which candidate they have promised, cross their hearts and hope to die, to vote for at the convention. Interesting twist: Just because they said that’s who they will vote for does not mean they actually have to vote for that person. They could all change their minds, should the mood take them.

Now, if I understand it correctly (and believe me, I may not), it’s a little different for Democrats. Apparently, the Democratic Party assigns the delegates based on the percentages in the popular vote, in which case your initial vote does count for something. Republicans, however, cannot afford to screw up and pick the wrong delegate, because for the Republican Party that is the only vote that counts today.

Today, of course, is only a prelude to next November, when we vote for members of the Electoral College, who will then cast votes for candidates based on the popular vote in their home states, although technically they don’t have to do that either.

And other countries wonder why Americans are so laissez-fair when it comes to voting.

1 Comment so far

  1. Fuzzy (unregistered) on February 5th, 2008 @ 11:34 am

    Oh, it’s even more complicated than that in the Democratic primary — there’s also the super-delegates and the fact that Michigan and Florida’s primaries didn’t count.

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