Sometimes the newspaper just can’t fit everything we have to publish. Our election primer in Monday’s Times-News is like that. Here’s the complete version. Enjoy.
Still puzzled by what actually happened at the Iowa caucuses? Does the presidential campaign so far leave you colder than frog’s butt (or voter’s snub) on a January day in New Hampshire? And speaking of New Hampshire, why in the heck does it get the first presidential primary anyway? Why not, for example, Wyoming?
Yes, for many the presidential primary season is harder to figure out than campaign finance regulations, last season’s final episode of “Lost” or the college football BCS. With media pundits declaring new Democratic and Republican nominees every other day and a dizzying array of primaries, caucuses, straw votes, debates and non-binding delegates it’s a wonder anybody gets elected at all.
But they do and it costs a boatload of money — roughly the gross national product of Costa Rica and then some — to get there
Here’s an easy Frequently Asked Questions feature to help befuddled voters navigate the bumpy campaign road ahead. Be careful of those potholes along the way. And please do not ask that we explain the actions of political candidates. Some things actually defy rational thought.
Q: What’s a primary?
A: Technically it’s an election held to nominate a candidate of a particular party prior to a forthcoming election for public office. Presidential primaries are held in most states every four years and are used as a means for candidates to collect delegates. The candidate reaching a certain percentage of delegates wins the nomination of either the Democratic or Republican parties. The final nominees then meet in November. Not all states have primaries. Some have caucuses, conventions or straw votes. Every announced candidate is not on every ballot in every state.
Estimated cost of this enterprise? A gajillion dollars.
On the local level primaries are much more straight forward. The winners for each party advance to the November general election. Estimated cost of this enterprise ranges from $2.75 to $10 million, depending upon how badly you want to get elected.
Q: I’m confused already.
A: We’re not surprised.
Q: When’s the North Carolina primary?
A: May 6
Q: Isn’t that way late?
A: If you compare it to virtually everybody else, yes it is.
Q: So will North Carolina have a say in who the presidential nominees are?
A: Not likely. The state hasn’t come into play on the primary stage since Ronald Reagan upset Gerald Ford in the 1976 North Carolina GOP primary. Reagan didn’t get the nomination that time but his win in this state made the race competitive to near the end and used it a springboard to his success in 1980. Today so many states have early primaries that it’ll likely make our presidential votes meaningless.
Q: So why does New Hampshire get to go first?
A: Because they’re New Hampshire dummy. Sheesh.
Q: No, really, why is it?
A: OK, New Hampshire actually passed a state law mandating that it be the first presidential primary forever and always — or at least until there are no more Bushes or Clintons available to run, whichever comes first. This is a status it’s enjoyed since 1920 and nearly 75 percent of New Hampshire’s economy depends on it. Three in five New Hampshireites derive their living primarily from the bar tabs of national media types.
For the record, long ago the primary was actually held in March but over time it got earlier and earlier because bigger states like Florida, South Carolina and Michigan wanted to horn in on New Hampshire’s big-time election action. It’s believed that this trend will continue and that the New Hampshire primary for the 2112 presidential race will actually be held next year, perhaps timed to coincide with the inauguration of the next president.
Q: What is the difference between a closed and open primary?
A: A closed primary is one in which only voters registered in a certain party can vote. For example, a Democrat would be allowed to cast ballots only in the Democratic primary and those registered as Independent would be out of luck. In an open primary anyone can vote in any race — but can only do so once — unless, historically speaking, the states are Illinois or Florida. Some states have modified open primaries strictly to allow Independent voters to cast ballots.
Q: What’s a caucus?
A: Strictly speaking a caucus is a meeting of members of a political party to plan action or select delegates for a nominating convention.
The Iowa caucuses held on Jan. 3 fall in to the latter category. It has become important over the years as an early test of strength among presidential candidates. Delegates for candidates, however, ARE NOT determined on caucus night. The caucuses, held by each party in the state’s 1,781 precincts, elect delegates to county conventions, which are held in March. Ultimately the process determines the number of delegates for which candidate.
Q: What’s a straw poll?
A: An unofficial vote or poll regarding candidates in the race. Straw votes are non-binding and involve no selection of delegates. Some TV pundits refer to these as “beauty contests.”
Q: Is there a point to that?
A: Not really.
Q: So what’s a delegate?
A: Delegates are those selected persons who actually attend the conventions of the two major parties. In North Carolina there are 134 Democratic delegates (though one source we found said 135). There are 69 Republican delegates. Those delegates, depending on the rules by state, are usually committed to a presidential primary or caucus hopeful based on a winner take all format or by dividing delegates based on percentage of the popular vote in that particular state. Delegates are collected by candidates throughout the primary season. Delegates frequently are committed to a candidate through one round of voting at the party’s nominating convention then they can vote for whomever they wish. But stay alert, rules for this vary by state.
At the Democratic convention there are actually more delegates than delegate votes. Thus some delegates have a half vote. This is the 1.5 persons you’ve likely heard about in national statistical charts.
Q: How, then, does a candidate win this thing?
A: According to the New York Times, to become the Republican nominee, a candidate needs to capture a majority of the 2,345 delegate votes. To become the Democratic nominee, a candidate needs to capture a majority of the 4,040 delegate votes.
Q: If nobody gets a majority of delegates what happens?
A: Anarchy obviously. But seriously, that means the annual conventions could turn into more than the boring informercials they’ve become over the past couple of decades. If no candidate captures a clear majority of delegates things get interesting. Any number of scenarios could play out including the emergence of a new candidate. It’s been a long time since that happened, if you don’t count episodes of “West Wing.”
Q: OK what’s next?
A: This week there will be Republican and Democratic primaries in Michigan and Nevada and a Republican primary in South Carolina (the Dems go to the S.C. polls later this month). All roads, though, lead to Feb. 5 when the Super Tuesday primary is held.
Q: So what the heck is Super Tuesday anyway?
A: Glad you asked.
For the Republicans 21 states will hold primaries or caucuses on Feb. 5. For the Republicans 1,081 delegates will be up for grabs — nearly half the total needed to nominate. Presidential hopefuls such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani are dangerously banking their futures on Super Tuesday when large northern states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Illinois go to the polls.
For the Democrats, 23 states vote on Super Tuesday with 2,075 delegates at stake. A big night for either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton could end the race right there.
Q: One last thing, what’s this Red State, Blue State deal?
A: Ask again in October.
Q: By the way, are there any local elections of note?
A: Absolutely. Three seats are up on the county Board of Commissioners, some on the Burlington/Alamance Board of Education and all the area representatives and senators in the state General Assembly. There’ll be judges up too. Statewide they already started running TV ads in the governor’s race and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole is looking for a second term.
Here are some election dates to remember.
Filing for local offices
Monday, Feb. 11 – candidate filing begins at noon
Friday, Feb. 29 — filing closes at noon
Primary registering and voting
March 17 — absentee voting by mail begins
April 11- registration closes for primary
April 17 — one-stop no-excuse voting begins
May 3 — one-stop no-excuse voting ends
May 6 — primary
June 24 — runoff primary if needed
Democratic National Convention
Aug. 25-28, Boston
Republican National Convention
Sept. 1-4, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Minn.
General election registering and voting
Sept. 15 — absentee voting by mail begins
Oct. 10 — registration Closes
Oct. 17 — once-stop no-excuse voting begins
Nov. 1 — one-stop no-excuse voting ends
Nov. 4 — Election day
Polls are open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. for all elections
Sources: Alamance County Board of Elections, New York Times, Republican National Committee, Democratic National Committee, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia.