How does the timing of primary elections affect the presidential election? Primaries held earlier in the calendar have an impact on those held later in the calendar in other states. In the United States, voter registration creates two hurdles to voter engagement. First, people need to register to vote. Second, they need to remember to vote on election day.
Those who miss the initial registration deadline can still register to vote online or by calling 1-800-REG-USA (743-5825). However, they cannot register at motor vehicle offices or with a deputy registrar of voters (DRV). Most states also require identification before you can be granted access to a ballot. Some states issue ID cards with photo IDs being the most common type. Other documents may include utility bills, lease agreements, or bank statements showing your address. Some states don't require any kind of identification while others may have additional requirements for individuals who haven't previously registered to vote.
In the early days of our country, when there were no national organizations to coordinate campaign activities between the states, each state controlled its own election process. Each state had its own rules regarding what role citizens could play in their electoral processes and how they could register to vote. The main rule across all states was that anyone who wanted to vote had to be a citizen of the United States.
The dates of primary elections or caucuses are set by state and municipal governments. These dates, as well as the amount of time between a primary and a general election, have a considerable impact on how early candidates begin campaigning and the decisions they make about how and when to spend campaign cash. The first-in-the-nation primary is held on January 3, while the last one is held eight days before the general election.
States have different laws regarding the number of candidates that can appear on the ballot for a given office. Some states limit each candidate to a certain percentage of votes (e.g., 50%) while others allow all candidates to remain on the ballot if they receive at least 1% of the vote (e.g., Delaware allows 10 candidates to remain on the ballot if more than one person receives votes).
In most states, the only requirement for someone to run for president is to be a natural-born citizen of the United States, be at least 35 years old, and have been a resident of the country for 14 years. Some states require candidates to file paperwork with their local election officials to verify that they meet other requirements for office (e.g., being a registered voter in that state).
Once candidates have entered the race, they start receiving donations from people who want them to win.
Because the presidential primary season is staggered, candidates may focus their efforts in each region of the country one at a time, rather of campaigning in every state at the same time. This enables campaigning on a much more intimate scale in some of the less populated states. It also allows for some degree of strategy adjustment if one state proves to be more important than another.
Staggering the elections means that not all states vote on Super Tuesday, which is March 1st this year. States have different rules about when they can hold their primary election and it's possible for some states to hold their primary as late as June. Staggered voting ensures that no single state dominates the process and prevents any one candidate from amassing an insurmountable lead before other contenders can make their presence felt.
This method was used by all the major parties until the 1980s, when Republican candidates began winning the early primaries with strong showings in states with large populations such as California and New York. This prompted Democrats to adopt a similar system, called "superdelegates", who can support any candidate they choose. The use of superdelegates has caused tension between supporters of various candidates who might otherwise be allied against common opponents.
The current system was established by President Clinton in 1992.
Why are the early fights in presidential primaries so crucial? Early contests provide observers with information on candidate viability. If a candidate does not prove able to win support from voters likely to be needed by their parties, then they can't be considered serious contenders. The first primary proved this out for George Bush, who was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the Republican contest despite having more money and more supporters than his rival.
The importance of early primaries is also demonstrated by the fact that since 1976, when California and New York entered the race, every nominee has been chosen before March 1.
Finally, early primaries allow candidates to test out their messages on potential voters before the news media starts paying attention. For example, Senator John McCain used his victory in New Hampshire to attack Senator Barack Obama for his past associations with former 1960s radical Bill Ayers. McCain wanted to show that he could get the conservative vote before it was too late.
Obama responded by attacking McCain for his own relationship with Ayers. This is what made the New Hampshire primary so important -- it gave both men a chance to make their cases to conservative voters before South Carolina's primary on January 21st.
Party members vote in a state election for the candidate they wish to represent them in the general election during primaries. Following the primaries and caucuses, each major political party (Democratic and Republican) organizes a national convention to pick a presidential contender. On election day, citizens in every state cast ballots. The candidate who receives a majority of votes is declared the winner. If no one wins a majority, then the House of Representatives selects the president.
The primary season begins when candidates declare their intentions to run for office by submitting paperwork with their parties or standing as independents. The parties select their nominees through various processes called "primaries." Primaries are held in any number of ways, but they all have two things in common: voters decide who will be nominated, and those people who want to be chosen must enter the race. Voters can choose anyone from within their party for whom there is a vacancy or position open. Candidates may also stand as independents if they fail to win votes in a primary process within their party.
State laws vary on how early a candidate has to file papers to be considered eligible for the ballot. Some states require that candidates file several months before the election, while others have "closer" contests where candidates need to file only weeks before the primary. The main purpose for these early filings is to give candidates time to build up support before the election. No candidate can appear on the ballot in more than one race during the primary season.