Civics is a lost academic discipline. Back in the day, high school kids had history, geography and civics classes. Then, social studies came in – supposedly a new name for the same lessons.
Gradually civics and geography got pushed to the edges and SocSt classes were dominated by history, because there was so much more history to be taught: not just U.S. history from 1607 Jamestown colony to the present, but also women’s history, Black history and world history.
So, today, boys and girls, we’re going to have a nuts-and-bolts lesson on how our government system works. Not aims, intentions, visions, but how do you go from, “I’m not happy with the mayor/commissioner/councilor/state representative/state senator/US Senator/US Representative/US President” to “I’m going to run for mayor/…”
This lesson will cover one aspect that confuses many people, though not, we are sure, the readers of this blog. Primary elections and political parties.
Political parties are groups of people who share a common outlook on how government should function.
Primary election system: Political parties select candidates to run for US President and other national offices by several methods. Minor parties usually hold conventions and elect who ever shows up to run as delegates committed to a particular candidate. This happens with the major parties, too, but they often hold public, taxpayer supported elections. This is where the confusion begins.
For a presidential candidate to get on a state ballot, local people must go to the state elections officer with a list of supporters or a check. Numbers for both of these vary by state. Also, the deadline for filing varies by state.
For example, in Oregon, the filing season for major party or non-partisan candidates opens next month, Sept. 10, 2015. All candidates must know the rules and follow them to get on the ballot. You can find rules for your own state with a simple Internet search. Each state has different rules and requirements.
You don’t just march up to the nearest microphone and proclaim your candidacy, as many Americans believe is the case.
In the general election in November, all candidates on the ballot are elected directly, EXCEPT the President. For president, voters are selecting delegates who have declared who they will vote for in the Electoral college.
When the Electoral College meets, several weeks after the general election, delegates for the winning candidate MUST vote for that candidate. The number of delegates for each state equals the number of US representatives PLUS the number of US Senators. This is why the election normally comes down to about six or seven high population states. Having two US Senators was how our Founding Parents (FPs) tried to treat high and low population states fairly.
If Virginia, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania wanted representatives from all 13 colonies to join the Confederation, they had to offer the low-population states some equality. So in addition to the House (of Representatives of all the people), they created the Senate, with two Senators/votes per state, to counter the population power of the big four states.
This helped to balance the powers of the states and would not allow the big guys to run roughshod over the little guys. The system was one of many checks and balances constructed by our FPs for the Articles of Confederation and later, the U.S. Constitution. They feared representative democracy and wanted everything to run on an even keel.
Back to primaries. Only party members, or people registered to vote with a particular party, may vote in primary elections, except in a few states where anybody can vote in any primary election. By the time the Convention rolls around, the candidate has been selected, unless there aren’t a majority of delegates supporting a single candidate.
THEN, the selection of the Presidential candidate is made at the convention. This happens after the first vote, when all delegates are released from their pledge to support a particular candidate. Then, it’s a free-for-all.
This hasn’t happened in years, because more and more states nominate candidates by election rather than through state conventions. Oh, I forgot to say, that back in the day, candidates were selected by each state’s party convention. This is true of both major parties, though the rules are quite different for each party. Many, many nasty shenanigans go on at those conventions.
Now, we must ask: are today’s candidates for nomination for U.S. President aware of all this? Some of them seem like novices: Dr. Ben Carson, for example. Donald Trump, as another example. Neither one has ever run for any elected office before in their lives. Do they even have a clue?
Carly Fiorina, who made a big impression last night in the mini-debate on Fox, ran for U.S. Senate in California a few years ago, so we assume she knows the situation. All the other candidates, in both major parties, have won elective office, so we must presume they have a clue, though in our experience, many local political wannabes actually don’t.
What do we learn from this? The Electoral College is a vital part of our election system, since it helps balance power between big states and little states. A popular vote is nice, but for national government to work, all persons and all states are important.