True or false. You only need to vote in the November presidential election and not the primary elections.
For most American voters, the presidential primary elections matter more than the general election. Like I’ve said before, if you live in a red state or a blue state, your vote in the presidential election won’t make a difference. The rest of your state will overwhelming vote for a Democrat or a Republican. Your vote won’t change your state’s outcome. (That said, if you vote third-party, you could help future candidates receive public funding like the Republicans and Democrats).
But the primary elections are an entirely different story.
The presidential primaries determine who will represent the Republicans and the Democrats during the November election. Instead of voting between just 2 candidates, you have the choice of 3 Democrats or 12 Republicans. Unlike the general election, you actually have a chance of voting for your preferred candidate, not just the “lesser of two evils.”
How do the primary elections work?
To understand the primary elections, you first need to know a few key political terms.
Caucus: A public vote where people literally hang out in a massive room and stand on the side of their candidate. People can change their mind and move to another side of the room. You have to stay until the end if you want your vote to count. Unlike a primary, which is organized by local government, the political party itself holds the caucus.
Closed primary: A voting process similar to the general election, but you must be a member of the political party to vote. To vote in the Republican primary, you must be a registered Republican. To vote in the Democratic primary, you must be a registered Democrat.
Mixed primary: Independents can choose to vote in the Republican or the Democratic primary, but only one. Republicans and Democrats follow the same rules as a closed primary.
Open primary: Anyone can vote in the primary of their choice. Republicans can vote in the Democratic primary. Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. You can still only vote in one primary.
Super Tuesday: When a whole bunch of states hold their presidential primaries on the same day. This year, Super Tuesday is March 1, 2016. It includes 14 states plus American Samoa.
Delegates (pledged): The people who actually get to vote at the conventions, who may or may not represent the votes cast in their state. In a binding primary, delegates must vote on behalf of the voters in the state. If the approach is “winner takes all,” then the delegates all vote for the presidential candidate with the majority of votes. If the approach is “proportional,” then the delegates for the presidential candidates in proportion to their votes received. Delegates are important political party members locally.
Superdelegates (unpledged): Super-important political party members like senators, governors, and former presidents/vice-presidents. They vote for whomever they choose, supposedly to represent the will of the overall party.
Democratic National Convention: A big party where the Democratic delegates and superdelegates vote for the Democratic presidential nominee.
Republican National Convention: A big party where the Republican delegates and superdelegates vote for the Republican presidential nominee.
Still confused? Luckily there’s a great (and brief!) video explaining the primary elections.
Or you can read the Wikipedia article on the presidential primary elections.
Why should I vote in the primary elections?
1) Two words: Donald Trump.
Do you REALLY want Donald Trump to be our next president?
If not, you either need to elect a Democratic presidential nominee who can beat him in the general election, or you need to elect a Republican presidential nominee who can win the Republican nomination. This can only happen if we all vote in the primary elections.
2) Your vote matters.
Or rather, if you’re in one of the early caucuses or primaries, your vote matters. Your vote can create the front-runner. In the 2012 Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney received 29,805 votes, Ron Paul received 26,036 votes, and Rick Santorum received 29,839 votes. In the 2008 primary elections, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama went back and forth with the lead, each winning major state primaries. Clinton was leading after Super Tuesday, but Obama took the lead by February 19th.
Plus one political analyst has predicted a close Republican race this year, without a clear front-runner until mid-March or even April.
Edit 04/20/2016: VOTING IN THE PRIMARY STILL MATTERS! The 2016 primaries are the most exciting presidential primaries America has had in decades. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic party has a definite winner yet.
Primary elections can be close races. As a libertarian, people often tell me that I’m “wasting my vote.” I think the only wasted vote is the vote not cast. But if you really want to talk about “wasting your vote,” your vote is wasted in the general election if you live in a blue or red state. If you want your vote to make a real difference, vote in the primary elections.
3) Voting is a great privilege, with great responsibility.
Americans are pretty damned lucky to have the right to vote. Is the system a little confusing? Yes. Is it perfect? Hell no. (Third-party candidates get screwed). Is it still a pretty awesome process that tries to represent the wishes of all Americans? Yes!
American women have had the right to vote for less than a century. The Voting Rights Act didn’t pass until 1965. Americans who came before us often faced great adversity in order to gain suffrage. Honor their courage this year. Vote.
When are the primary elections?
Find your state below! For a full list, including Americans abroad or in US territories, refer to this primary election calendar.
Monday, February 1: Iowa caucus
Tuesday, February 9: New Hampshire primary
Saturday, February 20: Nevada caucus for Democrats, South Carolina primary for Republicans
Tuesday, February 23: Nevada caucus for Republicans
Saturday, February 27: South Carolina primary for Democrats
Super Tuesday, March 1:
- Alabama primary
- Alaska caucus (Republican)
- Arkansas primary
- Colorado caucus
- Georgia primary
- Massachusetts primary
- Minnesota caucus
- North Dakota caucus (Republican)
- Oklahoma primary
- Tennessee primary
- Texas primary
- Vermont primary
- Virginia primary
- Wyoming caucus (Republican)
Saturday, March 5:
- Kansas caucus
- Kentucky caucus (Republican)
- Louisiana primary
- Maine caucus (Republican)
- Nebraska caucus (Democrat)
Sunday, March 6: Maine caucus for Democrats
Tuesday, March 8:
- Hawaii caucus (Republican)
- Idaho primary (Republican)
- Michigan primary
- Mississippi primary
Saturday, March 12: District of Columbia caucus for Republicans
Tuesday, March 15:
- Florida primary
- Illinois primary
- Missouri primary
- North Carolina primary
- Ohio primary
Tuesday, March 22:
- Arizona primary
- Idaho caucus for Democrats
- Utah primary
Saturday, March 26:
- Alaska caucus for Democrats
- Hawaii caucus for Democrats
- Washington caucus for Democrats
Tuesday, April 5: Wisconsin primary
Saturday, April 9: Wyoming primary for Democrats
Tuesday, April 19: New York primary
Tuesday, April 26:
- Connecticut primary
- Delaware primary
- Maryland primary
- Pennsylvania primary
- Rhode Island primary
Tuesday, May 3: Indiana primary
Tuesday, May 10: Nebraska primary for Republicans, West Virginia primary
Tuesday, May 17: Kentucky primary for Democrats, Oregon primary
Tuesday, May 24: Washington primary for Republicans
Tuesday, June 7:
- California primary
- Montana primary
- New Jersey primary
- New Mexico primary
- North Dakota caucus for Democrats
- South Dakota primary
Tuesday, June 14: District of Columbia primary for Democrats
If you think voting is important, please share this post with your friends and family! Together we can vote during the primaries in record-breaking numbers! Who’s with me?!
P.S. Still have questions? I’ve put together a handy FAQ! Have questions about the general election? I’ve shared voter registration deadlines, early voting dates, and other important races besides president!