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The Difference Between Primaries and Caucuses

The New Year is officially here and the Democratic Party presidential race continues to heat up. What's on the minds of the candidates lately? Political primary and caucus season, of course. Leading up to the party convention this July in Boston, these elections help determine who will receive the party's nomination. But, what is the difference between the primaries held in some states and the caucuses held in others, and what is their purpose?

Both primaries and caucuses allow registered voters to influence a political party's nomination process. Every state is assigned a certain number of delegates (based upon population) who will attend the national convention and vote to select the party nominee. When citizens vote for a particular candidate, they are really voting to allocate their state's delegates to each candidate. The Democratic Party stipulates that delegates are apportioned based upon the percentage of votes a candidate receives.

In addition to these pledged delegates, the Democratic Party also has unpledged delegates or superdelegates who comprise 15% of the total delegate pool. These superdelegates are high-ranking party and elected officials such as governors, congressional representatives, and DNC members. They may vote to nominate any candidate they choose and are not bound by the state's popular vote.

The two main ways of assigning delegates are primaries and caucuses. A primary is simply an election that allows voters to go to the polls and cast their ballot for a candidate, thus determining their percentage of the state's delegates. A caucus is a state convention that provides a public place for party members to gather, hear speeches, and vote for delegates to represent candidates at the national convention. Some states only allow voters to participate in their party's primary while other states have no party restrictions and allow voters to participate in any one primary they choose.

So, we have primaries, caucuses, delegates, superdelegates, and a convention, but for what end? Well, prior to the 20th century, candidates were predominately selected by party officials. Primaries and caucuses allow the average citizen to have a hand in determining the party's nominee and in influencing the party's platform. Finally, these early elections encourage candidates to campaign in more locales, which provide more opportunities for them to really hear the concerns of citizens nationwide. So, whether your state has a primary or a caucus, be sure your voice is heard. Vote!

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Content copyright © 2013 by Kimberly G. Bonnette. All rights reserved.
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