News / USA

    How US Presidential Caucus, Primary Process Works

    Supporters clap while listening to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, at a campaign event in Maquoketa, Iowa, Jan. 23, 2016.
    Supporters clap while listening to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, at a campaign event in Maquoketa, Iowa, Jan. 23, 2016.
    VOA News

    The U.S. presidential election cycle is split into two voting phases.

    First is the voting for the nomination in primary elections and caucuses, which takes place on different days in different states. Then comes the general election, which takes place on Election Day everywhere in the country.

    This is a look at the first phase and what it entails.

    How do the Democratic and Republican parties select their presidential nominees?

    Presidential primary elections or caucuses are held in each U.S. state and territory as part of the nominating process of U.S. presidential elections.  Some states only hold primary elections, some only hold caucuses, and others use a combination of both.

    The primaries and caucuses are staggered between January and June before the general election in November.

    What is the difference between a primary and a caucus?

    The primary elections are run by state and local governments, while caucuses are private events that are directly run by the political parties themselves.

    State governments fund and run primary elections in much the same way they do the general election in the fall. Voters go to a polling place, vote and leave.

    At a caucus, individuals who are viewed favorably within the party are identified as potential delegates. After a comprehensive discussion and debate, an informal vote is held to determine which individuals will serve as delegates at the national party convention.

    What are the types of primary elections and caucuses?

    The four most common types of primary elections are open, closed, semi-open and semi-closed. Each state must decide which type it wants to adopt.

    Open primaries and caucuses allow all registered voters, regardless of party affiliation, to vote in any party contest. Certain states that use this format may print a single ballot and the voter chooses on the ballot itself which political party's candidates they will select for a contested office.

    Closed primaries and caucuses require voters to register with a specific party to be able to vote for that party’s candidates.

    Semi-open primaries and caucuses allow any registered voter to vote in any party contest, but when they identify themselves to election officials they must request a party’s specific ballot.

    Semi-closed primaries and caucuses follow the same rules as closed ones, but they also allow voters who are not affiliated with a political party to vote.

    When are the votes held?

    While the dates for primary elections and caucuses can change each year, four votes typically occur before all of the others: the Iowa Republican and Democratic caucuses, followed shortly thereafter by the New Hampshire Democratic and Republican primary elections.

    This year, the caucuses in Iowa takes place on Monday, February 1, followed by the New Hampshire primary on February 9.

    How do the Iowa caucuses work?

    The nation’s first caucus is in the Midwestern state of Iowa. There, Democrats and Republicans meet with their respective party members on the evening of Monday, February 1, to make their presidential picks, to choose delegates and to discuss party platforms.

    The meetings take place in schools, restaurants, churches and other public buildings, but also in private homes. Iowa has 1,681 precincts, with Republican Party members meeting in nearly 700 caucus locations this year and Democratic Party members gathering in roughly 1,100, the Des Moines Register reports. Any registered party member can participate in the caucusing, which starts at 7 p.m. local time (1 a.m. Tuesday in GMT). Latecomers might not get in. This year, the Democrats are experimenting with tele-caucusing for Iowa residents temporarily living outside the state, including military personnel.

    The biggest difference between the parties’ caucuses is that, while Republicans cast secret votes for a candidate, Democrats physically cluster to show their support for a particular candidate.

    A Democratic candidate needs at least 15 percent of the caucus site’s voters to remain viable; otherwise, those voters are persuaded to realign and join another candidate’s cluster. The size of each “preference group” determines how many delegates it can send to county conventions in March. Those delegates eventually will pick from among themselves to determine representatives for the Democrats’ national convention. Republican vote totals are forwarded to GOP state headquarters to determine delegates.

    Democrats have no secret ballots in the caucuses, unlike in general elections, CNN points out. And independents have no say whatsoever in caucus outcomes because they can’t participate.




    You May Like

    Self-doubt, Cultural Barriers Hinder Cambodian Women in Tech

    Longtime Cambodian tech observer Sok Sikieng says that although more women have joined profession in recent years, there remain significant factors hindering women from reaching tech potential

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    February 06, 2016 10:45 AM
    America's liberal democratic tradition is the envy of all free peoples worldwide. I like the system cos it gives even the poorest of the poor the right to participate in the choice of the nation's leaders. I pray the 2016 presidential election will throw up somebody who will be genuinely committed to the eradication of the new wave terrorism that is giving the world sleepless night. I believe Americans have the key and the courage to sanitise the world and I wish them good luck.

    by: William Webb
    February 01, 2016 8:38 AM
    All of the millions of dollars changing hands, all of the shady deals going on, influence peddling, he said, she said, millions of dollars in Ads and television spots being bought and sold. This is never how the election process was supposed to work. Donald Trump doesn't want their money. He is not for sale, will not sell influence, will not accept the status quo. His vote counts the same as mine. My vote counts the same as any one of the super rich donors. Trump gets my vote!

    by: Peggy Bibb
    January 28, 2016 10:28 PM
    I love the debates, but do the candidates realize they spend more time talking about their opponents beliefs than about themselves and their strengths.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora