A Simple(r) Guide to the Democratic Primaries

01.29.2020 Arts & Culture
Leila Lajevardi
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The Democratic primaries are fast approaching. Political journalists are talking about caucuses, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Super Tuesday like they’re examining tomorrow’s weather forecast. But what does it all mean for the impending 2020 election? 

Let’s start with the basics of our political system…

In the US we have congressional districts that are proportional with representation. Each state gets a certain number of congressional districts which correlates with population size. In the US there are 435 congressional districts, of which California has 53 (which is considerably more than other states due to California’s large population). 

Congressional districts help to determine how many delegates a state gets while the state determines the actual number of delegates. They vote in representation with their district. (Or, at least they are supposed to.)

Delegates are crucial in the primaries because they go on to choose the party’s primary candidate. 

When I first understood this, I was left aghast and defensive. We don’t get to choose our party’s presidential candidate? What kind of democracy is this? 

Well you do… and also, you don’t. You essentially choose the candidate, but in a very roundabout way. 

What makes it even more confusing is that party rules and state rules differ. Each state has a closed or open primary. If it is a closed primary, it is closed to non-party members — so if you’re registered as an independent in a state with closed primaries, you cannot vote for the primary candidate. 

But if you can vote in the state primaries, your vote carries to the delegates who either represent your vote or not. 

For the 2020 election, Donald Trump will assume the position as the candidate on the Republican ticket, and 3769 Democratic party delegates will go on to choose the Democratic nominee to oppose him.

For example: In California, there are 416 delegates. If the primary ticket just had Warren, Sanders, and Buttigieg this is how the delegates would be determined to be proportionally representative of the people’s vote: 

If Warren gets 60% of the state vote, she gets 60% of the delegates — so 250 delegates are allotted to Warren. If Sanders and Buttigieg each get 20% of the vote in California, then they are each assigned 83 delegates. 

It is proportional representation — and it makes at least some sense and seems Democratic enough. 

However, there are discrepancies. Say the Republican party had a primary in Ohio, and whoever wins the primary will then get 100% of the state’s delegates. In this way, your vote is not represented. So if Buttigieg, Warren, and Sanders were on the ticket in a state under these primary guidelines and Warren won the most primary votes, then Warren would get all the delegates and Sanders and Buttigieg would get zero. 

Additionally, each party will select “Superdelegates” who are free to support whomever they want. 

Superdelegates are party officials with high political ranking that vote in accordance with their party establishment, rather than as representatives of the people’s vote.

How’s that for democracy? 

After all states have finished their primaries and the competition has been narrowed, the delegates head for their party’s National Convention where the official vote for the party’s nominee occurs. 

Now, where does the importance of individual states come in? New Hampshire and Iowa, specifically, have proven to be game changers for the election. Iowa is the first state to hold a caucus and New Hampshire always holds their primary a week before every other state.

Primaries are standard elections where voters stand in a booth and anonymously cast their vote, whereas a caucus is a public vote where people gather in groups in a public space to debate.

If a member of the public’s opinion changes they physically move sides and when the debate is over, the party rep counts the number of people on each side. 

Super Tuesday is a mass exodus of voting where a group of states hold primaries on the same day. It takes place on March 3rd and is created with the intention of offsetting the sway of Iowa and New Hampshire. After Super Tuesday, the democratic primary’s frontrunner will be determined and other candidates tend to withdraw from the election.

Simple and straightforward? Far from it! But hopefully this will make your understanding of the election process a little bit easier. 

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