“Finally!” I said to myself as I walked up to the counter.
This was my third time at the DMV to get a Tennessee license. Yup, you read that right. THIRD. I try to stay positive most of the time, but I couldn’t help thinking, “no wonder everyone hates the DMV.”
Long story short, I went to the DMV to get a new driver’s license as soon as I moved to TN. One attempt took so long that after three hours, I had to leave for a job interview.
Third times the charm, as they say. I got there before they opened. Waited about an hour. Then it was my turn. Once I finished all the crap I had to do for my license, the woman at the counter asked me if I want to register to vote. (Thanks Motor Voter Law!) Of course I do.
As I read the form, I wondered, “where’s the section to choose a political party?” So I asked. She informed me that I didn’t need to choose a political party. Interesting.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, I’ve gotten some questions recently about voting in the primaries. I thought I’d explain (briefly) how primaries work and why you should still vote in them. Even though the two candidates are all but chosen.
Warning: I will not be getting into conventions, delegates, and all that jazz.
Let’s dive in.
So what’s a primary?
- The outcome of the presidential primary determines the candidates for the general election. A Democrat and a Republican.
- It’s the way we narrow down the Democratic and Republican fields until there are only two people left. This time, there was really only a Democratic primary. Republicans ran against Trump, but there was no way they were going to win. The sitting president is the candidate for their party.
Ok, so now that you know what a primary is, there are two main ways primaries are conducted in the US. The closed primary and the open primary.
What’s a closed primary?
There was a reason I was so confused when I went to the DMV and was told I didn’t need to register in for a political party. In my home state of Connecticut, there is a CLOSED primary. That means only registered Democrats and registered Republicans can vote in the primary. AND they can only vote for their political party. The ballot will only have the candidates from their political party. There are benefits and drawbacks to the closed primary:
Benefits: It discourages voter sabotage. Meaning people are more likely to vote for who they want. It limits people voting for a weak candidate to take votes away from a strong candidate.
Drawbacks: It leaves out a TON of voters. Most people are moderate, either center-right or center-left. And they are the people most likely to check the independent box. Guess what independents, you can’t vote in the primary! That means you get stuck with whoever the registered party voters vote for. This is also a huge reason that the final candidates are often way too right or way too left for the average voter. (Can you tell I think people should register for a political party??) At the high school I taught at in CT, we ran a voter registration drive. I tried so hard to get the kids to register for a political party. Most of them refused. Part of it is that the word “independent” is enticing and resonates with teens.
So, what’s an open primary?
It’s just that. Open. Anyone can vote for anyone they want regardless of the party. When I got my ballot on election day, it had both Republican and Democratic nominees. I thought that was pretty cool because I could have done split-ticket voting. (There’s another AP Government term for you ;-)).
Benefits: One benefit is that it encourages more people to vote. You don’t have to be registered with a party to vote in the primary. It can also result in more moderate candidates. More moderates can vote, so more moderates can be elected. Also, it allows people to vote across the aisle if they want to.
Drawbacks: See the benefits of the closed primary. Check out this video for a good explanation (start at 4:18)
A lot of people have asked me if they should vote in the primary, even though we pretty much know who the candidates are.
YES. You should still vote.
1. It’s your right as an American citizen.
- It baffles me that Americans don’t vote. People in our country have DIED so that we can have the right to vote. Also, people across the world fight for this right that we so flippantly take for granted. Ok, rant over.
2. State & Local Elections
- In many states, you’re not only voting for the president. There are state primaries, state run-offs, and local elections. These candidates will likely show up on the presidential primary ballot. I argue that for many Americans, it doesn’t matter who the president is. For many of us, the president doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives. Perhaps that’s why so few people vote.
- That said, the elections that matter the most are state and local. The Constitution leaves a lot of decisions up to the states. Are you pro-choice, but you live in Texas?…VOTE. Do you want more money allocated to roads or disaster relief? VOTE. Do you think teachers should be paid more? (The answer better be yes ;-)). Well, you need to vote.
3. Federal Government vs. State Government
- The federal government does contribute to some of those decisions. But, states and local governments mainly make the decisions. AND for those of you fighting the good fight against police brutality, guess what. The police are run by state and local governments. Some of those positions, such as sheriff, are elected positions. Voting impacts budgets, who gets to lead, and rules police have to follow. (Among other issues).
- The federal government will pass take some action. (Here’s an article on an action taken by President Trump. (The article is from Aljazeera. The other headlines I came across were crazy biased). But state and local governments make the majority of the decisions. So get your butts to the polls and vote in the primary!
Here are some resources (click the links) I use with my students. They cover elections, political parties, political ideology, etc.
- Overview of How Elections Work
- How Voters Decide
- 2020 State Primary Election Dates
- Political Parties
- Political Ideology
- My favorite Political Ideology quiz. (Be sure to take the extended quiz. It takes a while, but it’s worth it).
Want to read more from the Teach Hungry Movement? Check me out here
What questions do you still have about elections? Let me know in the comment section below!