Tell me of your state's Democratic and Republican primary election process

I would like to know a few specific things:

  1. Who, or what institution, sets the primary election dates?
  2. Does public money or party money pay the primary election costs?
  3. Are the primary polling station locations the same as the general election locations? IE, are they held in public facilities?

Generally, I am trying to find out what interest, if any, a state government has in regulating/controlling primary elections of delegates, as opposed general elections of candidates.

In Virginia, at least, primary dates are established by state law.

  1. The PA Department of State sets primary, general and special election dates. I am sure there is input from parties.

  2. Counties pay for the bulk of the costs of primary and general elections (there may be some state and federal money for new voting machines) here as far as I know. But poll workers and election officials are paid by the county.

3a. You are asking two questions here. By and large polling places are in the same location unless there is a location specific reason why it couldn’t be.

3b. As far as “public places” it depends on your definition. Churches are often polling locations. Certainly some church/state scholars may disagree on whether that is “public”. There was also an issue in Philadelphia where some polling places were in taverns and private homes, including those of elected officials or party leaders. This was due to a lack of a public place available. As of 2006, this is no longer legal.

New York’s primary procedures are somewhat notorious; they’re basically designed to keep outsiders from getting on the ballot - the two main parties seem to have made an unoffical agreement to not challenge each other’s candidates and to keep everyone else out.

For example if you’re planning on running for office in NY as an independant of third party candidate, you’re required to submit a petition of signatures of registered voters. Fair enough. But if you’re not one of the main parties (as defined by having gotten at least 50,000 votes in the most recent Governor’s election - ie the Democrats or Republicans) you’re required to have three times as many signatures to get on the ballot. And signatures have to be full legal names. With legal addresses. And electoral districts. All handwritten in by the person signing. On a designated size paper. In a designated color of ink. With each page co-signed by witnesses who must also handwrite in the same information. And if there is any error in any of the above for any signature on the page, the whole page of signatures is invalidated.

Corrections: New York has several minor parties – Conservative, Independence, and possibly the Working Families Party (I can’t find their vote totals) – that automatically get a spot on the ballot by virtue of the 50K votes.

Further, the description is inaccurate: it’s discussing the difficulty of getting on the ballot on the primary for one of the standard parties. It isn’t all that hard to get a party on the ballot – some candidates create them for their particular run for office each year.

Basically, the parties determine who runs in the primary. The parties have a convention; if a candidate gets more than a certain percentage of votes, he’s on the primary ballot (I think it’s 25%). It’s only an issue if the candidate does not get enough votes at the convention to be on the primary ballot; then they have to go county by county to get on it. Some years, the convention decides to give all announced candidates the right percentage of the vote so that everyone goes into the primary.

It is true that NY election law is complicated and full of pitfalls. A local candidate missed getting on the ballot because he handed in his petitions a half hour early, for instance (The office opened at 8:30 and he handed it in to someone at 8:00)

The rules may differ in the minor parties, but they rarely have primaries. The Conservative Party usually endorses the Republican, and the Working Families Party usually endorses the Democrat. Independence usually runs their own candidates, but will cross endorse.

The primary is held early September (9/12) this year. It is a regular election, funded and run by the local Board of Elections. Most of the polling places are the same as in the general election.


  1. state law
  2. public money
  3. yes, identical

In 1992, the incumbent President, George Bush, was seeking re-election. In addition to the Democrats, he was challenged from within his own party by Pat Buchanon and David Duke who both sought the Republican nomination. Obviously, neither man had a realistic chance. But in New York, they ended up having zero chance. The Republican Party decided Bush would be the only candidate on the primary ballot and because of that, the primary itself was cancelled and Bush was declared the automatic winner of the NY Republican primary. Now I’m not saying that the Republican Party and George Bush didn’t follow the rules. But as far as I recall, New York was the only state where the rules allowed the Republicans to run Bush unopposed.

I haven’t lived in New York in 20 years, so I have no idea how primaries work now. But when I did live in New York, the Republican primary system was truly weird, and was obviously designed to prevent Republican voters from making informed choices.

When I voted in my first GOP primary, back in 1980, the Republican Party machine was very liberal, and was controlled by the Rockefeller-Lindsay wing, as personified by Vince Albano.

Unlike Albano, New York Republicans as a whole supported Ronald Reagan, and would have voted fopr him if his name had appeared on the ballot. It didn’t. In fact, NO candidate’s name appeared on the ballot! Rather, only the names of potential delegates were on the ballot! If you showed up at the polling place on primary day, you wouldn’t see


Rather, you’d see

Hence, if you supported Reagan, you had to know in advance that John Smith was the pro-Reagan delegates on the ballot. Otherwise, you had to cast blind votes for delegates you’d never heard of.

This was just the way the liberal Albano wanted it, of course. The last thing he wanted was for the actual voters to pick the nominee!

Another rule in NY is that you can’t write in a party when you’re registering. You have to either choose one of the parties that’s already succeeded on attaining “major party” status or you have to register as an independant. Third parties that are trying to establish themselves are caught in a Catch-22.

Thanks for you answers so far. I am trying to gather onformationn for use in this other thread about how difficult it might be for state Democratic parties to arrange their state party primary election in line with the DNC’s proposed calendar for all state primaries for the 2008 presidential elections.

The DNC says it will not allow the delegates from states that don’t compy with their calendar to vote at the convention. Actually it’s a bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it.

In Wisconsin, the election calendar is decided by the State Election Board, nine people in two-year terms. They are apoointed as follows:

  1. designated by the governor.
  2. designated by the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
  3. designated by the Majority Leader of the Wisconsin Senate
  4. designated by the Minority Leader of the Wisconsin Senate
  5. designated by the Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly
  6. designated by the Minority Leader of the Wisconsin Assembly
  7. designated by the chairperson of the Republican Party of Wisconsin*
  8. designated by the chairperson of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin*
  9. designated by the chairperson of the Libertarian Party of Wisconsin*
  • any party whose gubernatorial candidate received at least 10% of the vote in the most recent election gets at seat on this board.

In Indiana,

  1. Legislature decided the date, same for both parties. It has been the first Tuesday after the first Monday in May for a long time.

  2. The government pays for the logistics of the election. The parties usually do not pay any campaign money until after the primary. Voters register as a party voter, and they vote to select their own party’s candidate.

  3. Precincts are the same for primary and fall elections. Polling places are often schools, but firehouses and even private homes can be used.

Running for candidacy in the Rep or Dem party is pretty simple, but running in other parties requires a petition process with a required number of signers.

I don’t think its hard, but it may cost more money. I think that a number of states, including Georgia have separate primaries for the Presidency and other offices. That allows them to work within the DNC rules but also give candidates for other office time to campaign. It just costs the taxpayers a few extra bucks.