There’s a reason it’s called a process a lot goes into the nomination and election of a US President. That being said, I’ve decided to share how America has dealt with the Primary election, then and now. To read how the electoral process works, follow the link below. And don’t forget to cast your ballots!
Primary Votes Then
I can picture … the great Democratic convention of 1894 at the old coliseum in Omaha… right now I can hear the Hallelluiahs of the assembled. Oh how I wish I had back the youth and the enthusiasm I felt that night, I jumped on a chair and ask[ed] that by a rising vote the nomination be made unanimous, how the people yelled, how the packed gallories applauded, it cheers an old man now to think about it.
Mrs. J.J.McCarthy’senthusiasm for party conventions wasn’t shared by all of his contemporaries. Even before 1900, many sought to reform these conventions that uniformly ignored the will of individual voters in their selection of presidential candidates. Though these conventions were attended by delegates sent from their respective states, delegates were often chosen by state and party bosses with sway over the delegates’ loyalties, instead of by state-wide or majority elections, called primaries. Before the 1920s, party bosses were often accused of trading convention floor votes for power, patronage, or even cash! These problems kept the representational method of nominating candidates by sending delegates to conventions from being truly representational.
In the first decade of the 1900s, states began to hold primary elections to select the delegates that would attend national nominating conventions. The introduction of these primary elections mitigated the corrupt control of party and state bosses. But the widespread adoption of primary elections was not immediate and so they did not play the role of virtually determining a party’s candidate as they do today. 1912 was the first year in which a presidential candidate, two-time President Theodore Roosevelt, tried to secure his nomination through primary elections. That year, nine states elected delegates that supported Roosevelt, while incumbent, William Howard Taft, won only one primary election. Despite Roosevelt’s wholesale victory of the popular vote, Taft received the Republican nomination. This was because only 42% of the delegates who attended the nominating convention had been selected through primary elections. The rest had been selected by party bosses who supported Taft and succeeded in granting him their party’s nomination.
Failing to win the Republican nomination, Roosevelt and his supporters formed the Progressive Party, or Bull Moose Party, with Roosevelt as its presidential candidate. Roosevelt failed to win the Presidency that year, but with the help of the Progressive party, our country’s primary system began to change. Fed up with corrupt party politics, Americans demanded and won reforms that reduced the power of party bosses. The introduction of the secret ballot had led the way in 1888. By the 1920’s, almost every state had loosened the grip of political bosses and placed candidate selection more firmly in the hands of citizen voters.
The excitement and corruption of party politics was not limited to the national arenas and big party players. E. R. Kaiser paints a picture of local party politics in the late 1800s:
Politics played a big part in the life of this town years ago. Campaigns were hot, and there was always a big celebration afterwards. … Votes used to be bought — that is before the secret ballot was adopted. Some sold ’em pretty cheap. I remember one old fellow who sold out to one party for a dollar — then sold out to the other for the same price.
Primary votes now
Examine these convention pictures that range from 1904 to 1960. The face of political conventions doesn’t seem to have changed much in five decades. Even at today’s conventions, you’d see crowds of delegates, banners, and signs. It may look the same, but over the last 150 years the American primary process has been dramatically transformed.
Because the Constitution gives no guidance for nominating presidential candidates, Americans continue to tinker with the primary process. Reforms led to party rules for choosing candidates and delegates. The Democratic party has established national rules for how candidates are selected. The Republican party allows each state to set its own guidelines for candidate selection. Other parties, such as the Reform party, have a less structured candidate selection process.
The advent of early primaries in New Hampshire, early caucuses in Iowa, and the Super-Tuesday block of state primaries is relatively new to the election scene. As primaries were universally adopted as the method for selecting delegates, they became a more consequential part of the election process. Early primaries have taken on added importance as setting precedence and influencing the elections that follow in other states. Today, state legislatures capitalize on the importance of primaries and jockey for influence by scheduling their states’ primaries and caucuses as early as possible, forcing presidential candidates to cater to their states.
Unlike the heated back-room nominations of the past, there are few surprises at today’s national party conventions. Today, in 48 states, individuals participate in primaries or caucuses to elect delegates who support their presidential candidate of choice. At national party conventions, the presidential contender with the most state delegate votes wins the party nomination. Our far-reaching American news media ensures that state delegate vote counts (and the apparent nominees) are well known before national conventions begin. As a result, modern national conventions don’t select candidates. Instead, they launch nominees and election themes that carry through the race to the White House.
Bridge to the Future
‘I want to build a bridge!’ said one. October 21, 1996. From Oliphant’s Anthem: Pat Oliphant at the Library of Congress Exhibit
President Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Committee convention on August 29, 1996 was entitled “Join Me to Build that Bridge to the Future,” a theme that was played constantly for the next few months.
The perceived need for reform of the primary process continues today. Many feel that the influence of early primaries disturbs the balance of power exerted by the states upon the nomination of candidates, and thus the selection of the President. Proponents of campaign finance reform feel that the large sums of money required to run a political race deter many from seeking office. Indeed, the increased importance of primary elections and the increased media coverage of the race for the Presidency have added to the challenges facing a candidate. Prospective presidential candidates generally pay registration fees, collect a set number of voter signatures, and affiliate with a political party to qualify for state ballots or caucuses. That deceptively simple process is followed by the more onerous job of amassing a war-chest of campaign funds, then winning the hearts of voters in grueling and costly state races and in the general election.
Americans will continue to grapple with the primary and the electoral system. The beauty of our democracy is that citizens have the power to change the election process in the years to come.
Now, read how the electoral process works