Elections not as simple as just casting votes
The 2016 presidential primary and caucuses are in full swing, with New Jersey’s primary voting date soon approaching on Jun. 7. After the primary elections are over, the general elections later this year will determine who the president of the United States will be.
Though the voting system seems straightforward, there is some confusion with how elections work.
The primary elections are held to vote upon and determine who the Democratic and Republican
candidates will be for the general elections.
Patrick Fisher, professor of political science at Seton Hall, said that the voting process in the primary elections depends on the state that a person lives in.
“Some states have primaries, some states have caucuses, and some states have open primaries where everybody regardless of political party registration can vote (for any candidate),” Fisher said. “Other states are closed where you have to be a registered member of that party to vote.”
New Jersey is a closed primary state, which means that a registered Republican can only vote for a Republican candidate and a Registered Democrat can only vote for a Democratic candidate.
The primary elections, as Fisher stated, can either be held as a caucus or a primary. According to uselections.com, primaries are handled in a similar manner to the general elections. After the votes are tallied, the number of votes a candidate receives determines how many delegates will be awarded.
Caucuses, which are another way to determine the number of delegates a candidate receives, are more time consuming. According to Fox News, a Republican caucus voter listens to candidate supporters give speeches trying to persuade the voters to vote a certain way. Then, voters cast their ballots in private booths just as they do in primaries.
Democratic caucus voters have a different process. The total number of voters at the caucus are counted and put into groups based on who they are voting for. The voters all talk and try to persuade the others to vote for their candidates. Eventually the groups are counted; any group for a candidate with less than 15 percent are disbanded and that candidate is disqualified, forcing the people in that group to choose another candidate. This process repeats until there are only viable candidates remaining.
The voter turnout in primaries and caucuses determines how many delegates that candidate will receive.
In a poll posted online by The Setonian, 18 percent of 27 SHU students who voted in the poll stated that they did not know how delegates were involved in the primary voting process.
When voting in the primaries, the number of votes submitted by citizens determines the amount of delegates who will vote for a specific candidate. Delegates are either decided by the proportion method or the winner-take-all method.
Some states use the proportion method, “if a state has 100 delegates and a candidate wins 60 percent of the vote in the state’s primary, then that candidate will have 60 delegates from that state,” according to howstuffworks.com.
In winner-take-all states, if a candidate wins a plurality of the votes, they get all of the delegates for that state.
“As a political scientist in this cycle (of elections) what’s interesting is you can really see how the electoral system helps and hurts particular candidates,” Fisher said. “Bernie Sanders does a whole lot better in caucus systems where the turnout is lower because his supporters are more fervent and intense. While Donald Trump on the other hand tends to do better in primary systems, he is the opposite.”
As of the evening of March 30, according to the Associated Press, these were the number of delegates each candidate had been awarded.
For the Republican candidates, 1,237 delegates are needed for a candidate to be nominated as the Republican presidential nominee. Frontrunner Donald Trump currently holds 736 delegates, competitor Ted Cruz holds 463 delegates, and John Kasich holds 143.
The Democratic candidates need 2,383 delegates to be nominated as the Democratic presidential nominee. Hillary Clinton currently holds 1,243 delegates and 469 superdelegates for a total of 1,712. Bernie Sanders holds 979 delegates and 29 superdelegates for a total of 1,008.
Once primaries are finished and the Republican and Democratic nominees are declared, general elections follow. General elections use the electoral college, a group of 538 electors, to vote for the president.
The Setonian posted a second online poll asking SHU students if they knew how the electoral college worked regarding the general elections. Twenty-seven of the 89 total voters did not know how the electoral process worked regarding the electoral college, four voters stated that they only knew a small amount about the electoral college, two voters did not know what the electoral college was, and 56 knew what the electoral college did in the elections.
According to Fisher, citizens are voting for electors in the electoral college who promise to vote for that certain candidate. However, that elector is not legally bound to uphold his or her promise to vote for that candidate.
Fisher said that the electors who break their promise to vote for a certain candidate are called unfaithful electors and “on average there tends to be one unfaithful elector every other election.”
“48 of the 50 states are plurality elections where the winner (the one with the most votes) of the state wins all of the electoral college votes,” Fisher said.
A benefit of the electoral college, according to academic.regis. edu, is that it keeps states as an integral part of the presidential selection process.
The number of electors in each state is determined by the number of people each state has in Congress. New Jersey has 14 electors in the electoral college. A candidate needs 270 electoral votes to become president of the United States.
Gillian Traino, a freshman biology major, was one of the voters in The Setonian poll that stated that she did not know what the electoral college was. When finding out what the electoral college was, she said she was not pleased.
“So despite a democracy, the electoral college, which only represents a fraction of the population, ultimately decides on our president in the end?” Traino said. “Does our voice even count for anything? I feel a little betrayed to be honest.”
Fisher said that a lot of American confusion about the electoral college comes from the fact that it is an indirect vote.
“You’re not directly voting for the presidential candidate,” Fisher said. “When you’re voting, you’re voting for electors who have promised to vote for a particular candidate. So most Americans do not understand that system and most Americans are uncomfortable with that idea, I think. That’s kind of the funny thing about how the electoral college has lasted all these years; you tell Americans that they’re not actually directly voting for president and it’s kind of un-American.”
Ashley Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.