Terms and Definitions


Primary Election
An election prior to the general election in which voters select the candidates who will run on each party's ticket. Primaries are also used to choose convention delegates and party leaders, and may be open or closed. State primaries begin in January 2004.

Open Primary
An election in which any registered voter can vote in any party's primary. They must pick a party, and cannot vote in more than one election.

Closed Primary
The selection of a party's candidates in an election limited to registered party members. Prevents members of other parties from "crossing over" to influence the nomination of an opposing party's candidate.

Runoff Primary
If no candidate gets a majority of the votes, a runoff is held to decide who should win.

Presidential Primary
The primary election gives you a chance to vote for the candidate your party will nominate to run in the general election. Sometimes you can also cast your vote on local initiatives or for candidates running for local office. 

You’re busy with school or your job, or your family and your friends. Unless you’re a hardcore party activist, you may not have the time and money to travel to your party’s nominating convention. When you vote in a primary, you are actually telling your delegate how you want him or her to vote at the convention.  Delegates are generally chosen by your local or state party, and base their votes on what they hear from you.

Some states hold a caucus instead of a primary. This was how we originally did it back in the day, but most states hold primaries now. Generally, any voter registered with the party may attend. At the caucus, delegates are chosen to represent the state's interests at the national party convention. After discussion and debate, an informal vote is taken to determine which delegates should be chosen. Basically, in a caucus you are voting for a delegate who represents your choice rather than the actual candidate, as you would in a primary.

Winner Take All
Every state party approaches the electoral process differently. Some states have an electoral system that allows the winning candidate to control the whole delegate vote, while other states split their delegations on the actual voting percentages of the population

A political party forms a platform to showcase the issues that they feel the American people should care most about. Platforms tend to highlight the policies and beliefs of those candidates who win or can substantially prove that they have a large following.  

A majority vote means to retain at least 51% of the votes counted.

A plurality vote means that one candidate has received more votes than any other, but hasn’t met the 51% threshold needed to have a majority.