Politics 101: Is voting in the primary election just as important as voting in the presidential election?
Since February 3rd, primary election season has been in full-swing. It kicked off with the Iowa Caucus, in which Pete Buttigieg managed to beat Bernie Sanders by .1%, and it ended with Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the presidential race. Although a lot has changed now that all but two Democratic candidates have dropped out of the race, the primaries are still very much alive and well, with Florida, Arizona, and Illinois still holding elections today during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
While twenty-four states have already voted between Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, the results seem to indicate that voters believe that Biden is our best chance against Trump. Even the former presidential candidates agree, with all but two—Marianne Williamson and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio—endorsing Biden. And even though Trump isn’t running uncontested, with former Massachusetts Governor William Weld running against him, his chances of being elected the Republican nominee are pretty much zero to none.
But, that being said, we still have choices; we still have more than one person to choose from for the Democratic ticket, and that means you should be voting when the primary comes to your state—because, yes, the primaries are just as important as the presidential election. Here’s how it started and why you should vote:
How did the primary election begin?
For the most part, the primary election process is fairly new. While primaries were used as early as the 1840s, it wasn’t until the 1912 election—when incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft was running against Democrat Woodrow Wilson, Republican Robert La Follette, and Republican Theodore Roosevelt—that a “test” run of the primaries was put into place. Ultimately, Taft lost to Wilson and, to make things even more complicated, Roosevelt, who had already been president before Taft, broke off and ran for the Progressive Party (also known as the Bull Moose Party), which he created specifically for the 1912 election after losing the nomination for the Republican Party.
Naturally, a system had to be put in place that would narrow down nominees before the presidential election. Slowly, states eventually adopted primaries, with the ’70s being known as the modern primary era. And by 1992, the Republicans had primaries in 39 states, while the Democrats had primaries in 40 states. Yes, that’s how new it is.
Why you should vote during the primaries
1The primaries give you a voice.
No matter how frustrated you may be over the last presidential election, when we all watched in horror as Donald Trump took the electoral votes while Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, we still technically live in a democracy. “Technically,” in that some experts feel it’s no longer the democracy it used to be, while other experts have declared the U.S. a banana republic—and no, not the store. These two factors, in themselves, should give all concerned citizens an extra incentive to vote.
“Your vote is your voice,” Erin Vilardi, founder and CEO of Vote Run Lead, tells HelloGiggles. “Voting during the primaries is a crucial element of our democracy because [the primaries] demonstrate the power of voter turnout in the general election…and allow for candidates who may not be viable for the general [election] to insert new issues into the conversation.”
As Vilardi explains, your primary vote is an expression of what’s most important to you. From policies to programs to everything in between, you’re voting for the leaders—both presidential contenders and local leaders—who will fight for what you value and feel is paramount.
With only two male candidates in the running, primary voting is now even more crucial for women. “On the heels of Warren’s exit, women voting in the primaries is critical for shaping the agenda of the parties’ platforms,” Vilardi says.
2The primaries give you an opportunity you don’t find in many other countries.
Not all voting systems are the same across the globe. Hell, some countries don’t even have the right to vote in the first place, or have a rigged situation, as evidenced by what’s happening in Venezuela with Nicolás Maduro and Vladimir Putin’s recent decision to allow himself to continue his tyranny, er, rule until 2036.
“In most countries, party candidates for office are chosen by the party leadership and ordinary supporters of that party have little or no choice regarding who is nominated for elections,” Daniel Koychev, an active member of Democrats Abroad, tells HelloGiggles. “The U.S.’s system of primaries gives voters a unique opportunity to choose who they would like to represent their party in the general election, and this shouldn’t be overlooked by the average citizen.”
Simply put: Yes, your vote, that individual vote that you cast during the primaries, matters. And it’s a right worth exercising.
It’s a good way to narrow things down.
Although, as Americans, we sometimes complain that we have only a two-party system, that’s not quite accurate. There are multiple political parties in the U.S. and while not every party will make it to the debates, they can pop up on ballots.
As Koychev explains, primaries are a good way to keep extremist candidates out of the race. “Most party supporters in the U.S. aren’t extremists and don’t want extreme and unrepresentative candidates being nominated by their party,” Koychev says. “By voting in party primaries, voters can prevent this without having to resort to pulling the lever against their own party’s unsuitable candidate at the general election.”
It’s not just as important as voting in the presidential election, but can be more important.
“Primary voting is more important than general election voting,” Jonathan Lockwood, Republican political consultant, tells HelloGiggles. “If you don’t even help choose who your party’s candidate is, you’re voting against your own views. Too often, especially on the left in safe Democratic districts or on the right in safe Republican districts, incumbents and mediocre career politicians skate by in a primary and get re-elected without even trying.”
As Lockwood explains, we can’t allow this to happen. We shouldn’t be complacent, especially when an incumbent has failed us and it’s time for a change. “We need people on either side of the aisle to get more engaged to shape the general election,” says Lockwood.
Primary elections will continue into June, with the last scheduled primary being the Republican primary in Puerto Rico on June 7th. While the next primary elections are happening today in Arizona, Florida, and Illinois, the states of Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Ohio have postponed their elections to June or May because of the coronavirus.
Either way, it’s not too late to educate yourself about the candidates and get out there and vote. “Every vote is a powerful way to have a say in who can become president, and that’s a pretty big deal,” Vilardi says. “Ultimately, your voice matters. Your primary vote matters.” Just make sure to be safe during this time. Even though the coronavirus might be shaking things up right now, it’s important to mail in your vote or maintain good social distancing to practice your right.