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What are primary elections? Who can vote and what do they vote for?

Before candidates for public office from the political parties can face off in the general election, they need to win over the citizens to be on the ballot.

Primary elections underway for 2022 midterms

In any year and at various times across the year state and local elections can take place as citizens come together to select who they want to represent them. The wider American public has the ability to vote twice, first to select the candidates from the parties that will be on the general election ballot and then the person they wish to represent them in the public office in the general election. The first round can be either a caucus or primary.

When electing a president and vice-president every four years, there is one more additional layer. In the general election, most states give the presidential ticket which gets the most votes all the state’s Electoral College votes. Then those electors meet to cast their predetermined votes which are sent on to the US Congress where the results are added up and certified.

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Who can vote in elections?

States set their own rules for who is allowed to vote but generally you have to be age 18 year or older, a US citizen and registered to vote in order to cast a ballot in an election.

Primary elections: explained

The purpose of primary elections is simply to select candidates that will then run for public office. There are two types of ‘primaries’ that can be held, partisan and non-partisan. Partisan primaries are considered closed and only allow declared party members to vote while non-partisan primaries are open and enable all voters to take part without declaring their party allegiance.

Then there are direct and non-direct primaries, the former seeing voters elect their party’s candidates, and the latter is where they select delegates to choose the actual candidates at a special convention that is held.

What about caucuses?

As well as primaries, the other early option in the election process are caucuses. Unlike the secret ballot system, these see a gathering of voters decide together on a particular candidate. The number of states that hold caucuses has been dwindling over the years as the Democratic and Republican national parties pressure them to opt for primary-style elections.

Caucuses have come under criticism for limiting participation due to the way they are held. Normally, they take place in the evening and can be quite time consuming. This has the effect of lowering voter turnout, and those that do turn out are more ideologically extreme than those who vote in primaries according to conventional wisdom.

Currently, beside the well-known Iowa caucus, Nevada, North Dakota and Wyoming still have caucuses. As well the US territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Virgin Islands.

2022 Primary Elections

In 2022, Republicans and Democrats will be selecting their nominees for the midterm general election. All the US House of Representative seats will be on the line. Thirty-four of the 100 US Senate seats will be contested and thirty-six governorships.

The primaries kicked off in Texas 1 March and will wrap up 13 September with elections in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The general election will take place Tuesday 8 November 2022.


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