I should know this, and I may regret asking, but remind me - who gets to vote for Presidential nominees?

I’ve realised there is a gap in my knowledge of US elections (Presidential or otherwise).

Now, I appreciate that you have loads of nominees putting themselves forward, and you spend months selecting The Chosen One, but it occurred to me - who gets to vote?

Is it paid-up members of the respective party? (is there even such a thing?)
Is it registered voters who have, at some point, ticked a party on some government form?
Or is it everyone, whatever their affiliation?

I’m so not clear on this.

It’s a step by step process. so you think you want to be president?

I was hoping for something a little more digestible

It varies by state. In my state, we do not register a party affiliation. For a primary election, there are two lines, one for each party. You may pick either line, and vote in that party’s primary. If there is a runoff, you may only vote in the party for which you voted in the primary. Next election, you are free to vote in the other primary if you wish, but likewise will be bound to only vote in a runoff for that party. In the general, of course, you can vote for whoever you wish.

States hold primaries or caucuses. My understand of caucuses is that anyone who is around can “vote” which involves more than simply ticking a ballot. You need to be present for the process.

Primary rules differ from states to states. In some states any registered voter can go in and vote in either primary. They often give you two ballots, one for each party. You fill one out and cast that one and toss the other. The Presidential Primary may or may not be held in conjunction with primaries for other offices. In some states you need to be a registered member. I don’t think any state requires (or lets the party) have a party fee. The amount of time you need to be registered also varies. In some states you can walk in that day and say I’m a D/R and get the ballot. In other states you need to have declared a party some time in advance. I think 30 days is typical.

A video less than 2.5 minutes long wasn’t digestible enough for you?

US elections for federal office are actually held by the states, so while there are some overall restrictions the states have to abide by, they get to decide the specifics of how an election works. This means that the exact setup varies from state to state. Also, parties are not mandated by federal law or the constitution, so there’s no requirement to even hold primaries - while the Democrats and Republicans always hold primaries, there are other parties that use another method (usually a private meeting called a caucus) to select their candidate.

This gives an overview of the different types of primaries:

In a nutshell:

States hold primaries or caucuses to elect delegates to their national party convention. The delegates, who are usually pledged to a candidate, vote on the nominee. The one with the most delegate votes becomes the candidate.

I wasn’t interested, so I didn’t and still haven’t clicked the link; but yes a response of “here’s a video!” is not a good response. Use your words or link to a text explanation.

And just to muddy the waters a bit more, US citizens in Territories like Puerto Rico vote in primaries but not general elections. And folks in Washington DC are not residents in a State but vote for both.

Maybe I’m about to be whooshed but just to be clear, joining a political party only requires you to indicate you are joining that party when you register to vote. There is no payment involved.

The link also has a text transcript.

The infographic is pretty good, too. It’s what we pay our taxes for. Why not use it?

But the fact is, it’s not a simplistic, sound-bite explanation. Sorry.

This is not true in many Western democracies. You pay dues to belong to a political party, like many other organizations.
Edit: I’m guessing the OP is from one of those other countries?

Many of us don’t have an opportunity to pick candidates. Since they are held at different times, the states that happen later in the process have no say. In 2016, the Republicans had already picked Trump before Montana (and other states like California) had a chance to vote. Democrats nominally had two candidates on the ballot, but Hillary Clinton was a fait accompli before it got to us. It’s a pretty broken system.

Thank you, my thoughts exactly. My question also wasn’t ‘how to become president’, but who gets to vote.

Indeed. I’m in the UK, where if you want to vote to choose candidates to represent a particular party, you need to be a paid-up Member of that party, ie you pay a yearly subscription. I gather that D/R parties are looser affairs.

See, to me, that seems a great way to make sure that none of your parties have to care about the concerns of poor people. It feels as wrong to me as a poll tax.

Granted, our parties have the same problem in a different way–relying on donors and thus needing to appeal to those with the most money. Still, somehow actually paying to be able to vote in anything related to politics hits me in a much more visceral way.

Well, not really, because the candidates still have to get elected by the masses. But it at least means that candidates are following the party policies that are published in their manifestos, so the public know what they’re voting for.

And the cost of joining a political party is about £25 a year, less for some. There’s an expectation that If you’re a member of a political party, then you are active - campaigning on behalf of candidates, putting up posters, attending meetings. Not compulsory, but that’s why most would join.

In Canada, joint a federal party ranges from free to $15/year, plus the cost of being bombarded with email, phone calls, and letters asking you to donate :crazy_face: