Primary Elections & US Constitution

How much of the USA’s Primary Election circus is mandated by the US Constitution? Must we elect delegates, for crying out loud! What a fiasco! Why can’t the popular vote be taken at FACE VALUE? Why must OUR votes equate to delegates that go to some grossly overpriced convention that wastes too much time and money? When did all this hoo-hah start, anyway? Last, why don’t ALL US states vote on the same day? If we can handle Super Tues., I think the USA can handle all voting at one time. - Jinx :confused:

None of it. It’s all the parties.

That’s what I figured! It just goes to show where the common man’s vote ranks…it’s all for show. And, some states split delegates while others don’t. …And then, there’s that whole Florida thing I totally don’t understand.

The parties could theoretically choose their candidates any way they wished, such as a head-on-head tiddleywinks tournament. In fact, they used to be chosen at the conventions, which often required more than one ballot. Binding primaries became preferred after the 1968 Democratic convention and the riots partially ignited by Eugene McCarthy supporters who felt they had been screwed over by their own party. The Democratic National Committee encouraged binding primaries as a reform, and the Republicans quickly did the same thing.

There is no mention of primary voting in the Constitution for one very simple reason: political parties didn’t exist at the time.

Parties came along very quickly but there are totally extra-constitutional. Parties are private bodies and have First Amendment rights up the wazoo as exemplifiers of political speech.

As private bodies, parties can make up any set of rules they want. They can have caucuses or primaries. The vote can be for candidates or for delegates. Superdelegates that aren’t voted for are also part of the process. The government should have no say in the matter whatsoever.

The only say the government does have, and it’s hard to justify, is that state governments allow the use of their standard polling places, poll workers, voting machines, and oversight for primaries. I don’t know whether the parties reimburse states for the expenses.

Conventions start in the first third of the 19th century. Party leaders and activists went to pick a candidate for president. (States also had conventions for the zillion state offices, like city council, county legislature, state legislature, some judgeships, attorney general, and other stuff.) By the end of the century, the populist and progressive movement were demanding some say into the process. For good reason. Conventions were cesspools of vote trading. Favorite sons sound like an all-American tradition, but the practice meant nothing more than a state would nominally back an in-house candidate and hold out until the big shots needed votes. At which time promises of jobs, positions, earmarks and just plain graft were made in trade for releasing the state’s votes.

That’s why primaries and caucuses came into being, the theory being that voting for delegates pledged to particular candidates meant that they couldn’t abandon them easily for loot. Loopholes abounded and after the disastrous 1968 Democratic Convention, controlled by Mayor Daley’s storm troopers, in which dissident delegates got beaten by police, the sane half of the party would strip the bosses out of almost every bit of their power. Sure, they let the members of Congress and governors and other elected officials be “superdelegates” but mostly what happens is that they see who’s going to win and make a beeline to that candidate so they don’t get left out of the spoils. No process that mandates a party to cut hundreds of its top elected officials out of the loop would be accepted, but counting individual votes instead of electing delegates would do exactly that.

Why not have all primary voting on the same day? Well, the 2004 presidential race cost more than $1.2 billion. With prices going up and many more candidates in a primary race, that figure would probably double. You think that all the candidates do is raise money now? They’ve spent some $200 million so far. What if they had to raise ten times more? What happens with candidates like Huckabee or Biden or Thompson or even Edwards or Giuliani? They are ran into money problems already although the process has been somewhat spread out over six weeks.

What exactly is the fiasco you’re referring to? The Democratic field has been cut to two people, the Republican field to two as well, since Huckabee and Paul have no more support left. Isn’t that exactly what a process should do? Now the top two contenders can campaign against each other without the distraction of ten person debates and get their positions across more easily and clearly.

It’s all working extremely well this year. Maybe you need to articulate what your problems with the system are in rational fashion before we can answer any real question that might be buried under the shouting.

Exapno, you raise some good points now knowing the history of how we got here. I was merely seeking a factual answer to why, among other things, we need the hullabaloo of two conventions to reiterate what the American people’s votes have already said! Maybe we got here on the premise that the average American simply can’t handle working with such large numbers…so counting delegates is a lot easier.

Nah, I think the simple answer is that conventions were the same type of response that the electoral college is. Both are set up to deal with messy situations of many candidates, none of whom were clear frontrunners.

That was the expectation from the beginning. A number of good men who throw their hats in the ring and somehow they would have to be whittled down to just one.

National campaigning wasn’t an answer in the 19th century. Too slow and awkward. And it wasn’t thought seemly for a candidate to do so himself. It made far more sense for a small number of state leaders to get together and work with one another when they were close enough to talk and argue and bargain and come up with an answer. Straight voting by the millions would confuse the issue even more. What happens if nobody gets 50% of the vote? How many national runoff votes could there be? How would the candidates campaign for such a thing? How long would it stretch out the election process? How much money would it cost?

We’re finally in an era in which travel is not an issue but we know the rest of the answers. It stretches out the process to over a year - unthinkable before. It costs billions - unthinkable before. And we still need some sort of winnowing process because so many are in the race that nobody can get a majority.

Yet the process works fine. No convention has needed a second ballot since 1952. I don’t believe the superdelegates ever were the deciding swing factor. We know who the candidates are several months before the convention so they can get started raising money and creating their campaign teams in April or March or February instead of August. The conventions are infomercials used to pump up the base rather than sleazy horse-trading fests that hem in the abilities of presidencies to pick their own cabinet members and judges.

The system ain’t close to perfect. I’m cynically convinced that the only reason the parties keep Iowa and New Hampshire in front is that they look like America in front of the cameras - they’re 95% white faces, in other words Few foreign born. Few illegals. Few Asians. Few Blacks. Few gays. Few poverty-stricken urban blight areas. That’s what Americans still want to believe America looks like. Start in South Carolina and Florida? Or New York and California? What would the same people who say American isn’t ready for a black or woman president say? Anyway, no proposal to fix the problems has any political traction that I can see. Who benefits? The candidates get away with less personal scrutiny and more attack ads if the campaign starts in larger states. Does that help anyone?

The system will continue as is until something makes it go smash. That something seems far off.

Aren’t there provisions in state constitutions regulating primaries?

No, in general provisions for primary elections are found in state law.

The whole Florida (and Michigan) thing is chest-thumping by Iowa and especially New Hampshire, who have carved out a facade of importance for themselves politically through pride of place as “first in the nation.” First caucus in Iowa and first primary in NH. For the last several election cycles states have been moving their primaries earlier and earlier in the calendar year under the theory that the later their primaries are held the less relevance they have to the process of selecting the candidate. Meanwhile, NH has a state law that mandates that their primary be held in advance of any other state’s primary. As the other states moved their primaries further and further up, NH was forced to move theirs up as well. In response, the DNC and the RNC both forbade any state other than NH to hold a primary any earlier than February 5. Michigan and Florida defied the parties. In response, the DNC stripped Florida and Michigan of their delegates and will not seat them at the convention and the RNC stripped each state of half of its delegates.

The real puzzler is why South Carolina, which also held its primary before February 5, got away with it.

South Carolina didn’t entirely get away with it; they had their delegates halved by the RNC just like Michigan, Florida and Wyoming. Not sure why the DNC hasn’t done anything about them, though.

Can you imagine the squawks from the African American community that would accompany the DNC’s stripping the delegates from South Carolina?

The DNC invited Nevada and South Carolina to move their delegate selection before Super Tuesday to add more diversity to the “early primary” states.

Duplicate. I hate it when the capybaras take coffee breaks. :mad:

You do understand that the United States Constitution doesn’t even require that you be allowed to vote for the members of the Electoral Congress sent by your state? :eek:

That’s right: You don’t have a constitutional right to vote for the President, let alone for the nomination of a candidate from any particular party. In the beginning, not all states elected their Electors; it wasn’t until something like the 1820s (I’m to lazy to look it up) that close to all the states did use elections to accomplish that task.

While it’s been mentioned earlier that political parties are private bodies, they don’t have all the First Amendment rights that others have.

A political party cannot restrict who votes in its primary on the basis of race or gender or age, for example. One of the methods used by Southern Democrats after Reconstruction to disenfranchise blacks was to not allow them to vote in primaries. And until the 1960s, that essentially meant you couldn’t vote for the candidate that was a cinch to win.

The Supreme Court eliminated this practice much before then.

How are political parties any different from any other private entities, who also can’t discriminate on the basis of race or gender or age. Nor is that a violation of their First Amendment rights. You don’t have a First Amendment right to break the law.

Private entities cannot discriminate on those bases because of the Civil Rights Act, not the Constitution.

Why is Richard Parker like Microsoft?


My mistake. I assumed you thought the private entities were constitutionally required to take certain actions. Instead, your question is why political parties aren’t subject to the Civil Rights Act?