How Presidential Primaries Work

Ian Hua, Co-Editor in Chief

On Tuesday, Mar. 3, some seniors at The MacDuffie School will be able to vote in a national election for the first time in the Massachusetts Presidential Primary Elections. These elections precede the national election for President of the United States, which takes place in November. 

Only U.S. citizens over 18 years old and registered to vote may cast a ballot. To do so, individuals must find their assigned polling place (this website can help), which is determined by residential address. For example, Granby Junior Senior High School is the designated polling place for many Granby residents. Voting can take place at any time during the day on Mar. 3 from around 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. depending on location. 

In the Massachusetts primary elections, there are ballots for four major political parties: Democratic, Republican, Libertarian and Green-Rainbow. Each party’s ballot contains the names of their various presidential candidates.

Details of the primary (or caucus) process differ between states. In general, individuals vote for the presidential candidate in their political party who they think should run in the federal election in November. For example, this year there are currently 8 major Democratic candidates left in the presidential race (although 15 remain on the ballot for primary election). Eventually, one will be nominated to run against the Republican candidate who was nominated by their party. Nomination is a result of both the primary elections and a meeting called the National Convention. 

This year, the Republican primary election appears to be more or less decided, as the current President, Donald Trump, has little competition for nomination. In the Iowa caucus (a different form of preliminary election that took place on Feb. 3), Trump won around 97% of the votes. However, the Democratic election is anything but finalized. There are 8 major candidates remaining in the race for presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren. 

The purpose of the primary elections is to decide what delegates a state will send to the National Convention. These delegates from all 50 states and the District of Columbia will then vote at the Convention to decide who the presidential nominee will be. The winner of that election is nominated. This year, Massachusetts is sending 114 total delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and 41 total delegates to the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

In the Massachusetts Presidential Primary Elections, for both Democrats and Republicans, the percentage of the vote that a candidate receives is proportional to the percentage of pledged delegates (the delegates that are required to support a particular candidate)  that they will receive. This means that the more votes a candidate receives in the primaries, the more people will vote for them at the national convention. 

A democratic candidate must win at least 15% of the vote to receive any delegates. 91 of the 114 total delegates are pledged. The unpledged delegates will go to the National Convention and can vote for any candidate. 

Republican delegate allocation is slightly more complicated and depends on what percentage of the vote candidates get. A candidate must win at least 5% of the votes to receive any delegates. After that, 4 scenarios are possible. Either one candidate receives 50% of the vote, two receive 20%, one receives 20%, or no candidate receives over 20%. In the first scenario, the winning candidate gets all 41 delegates. In the second, the two  candidates split the delegates proportionally according to the vote. In the third, the two candidates receiving the most votes split the delegates the same way. Finally, in the last scenario, all candidates split the delegates proportionally. However, there are only 4 Republican presidential candidates this year, so the last option is not likely. 

In Massachusetts, primary voting is semi-closed, which means that voters who are registered to a particular political party are required to vote on their party’s ballot, while voters who are not registered to any political party may choose which party’s ballot they will vote on.