How a Presidential Candidate is Chosen by Each Party

By Bill Phan


With so many politicians jumping in the race for the presidency, it’s easy to concentrate on the candidates and forget about the actual process that goes into choosing them. How are candidates chosen to be nominees for their party? What’s a primary election? What’s a caucus? What are delegates and (in Democrats’ case) superdelegates? All of this and a whole lot more will be answered.

What are the requirements for someone to be President?

In Article II, Section I, Clause 5 of the Constitution, a person wanting to serve as president must:

  • be a natural-born citizen of the United States,

  • be at least thirty-five years old at the time of taking the office,

  • be a resident of the United States for at least fourteen years.

What are primaries and caucuses?

Primary elections, according to CGP Grey on YouTube, are elections held in all 50 states and the territories for citizens to vote for a presidential nominee. Each state’s party members determine how primaries in their states are held. Primaries can be closed, only allowing party-registered citizens to vote in that primary election, semi-closed, allowing independents (citizens not registered to any party) to vote in the primary, or open, a primary with no party membership restrictions, allowing people of any party to vote in that primary. Simply put, primaries are usually a party restricted election in each state.

Caucuses, on the other hand, are public debates held in public places, where people who like different candidates of the same party take sides in a room, debate, and physically change sides if and when they change their mind. At the end of the caucus (moderated by local party officials), the candidate with the most person on their side earns the votes.

But when a citizen votes in a primary or caucus, they are technically not voting directly for that candidate. Instead, the candidate with the most votes receives all of that state’s party delegates’ vote. A citizen indirectly votes for a candidate through these delegates. Both parties, Republican and Democratic, have this system. But the Democratic Party additionally has unpledged delegates, colloquially known as “superdelegates”. These delegates are not elected (regular, or pledged delegates, are) and are usually influential politicians within the party establishment. They are allowed to vote for whoever they want regardless of what the voters want, as a safeguard to protect the party’s interest.

A reform packet has been adopted by the Democratic Party to only have ⅓  of superdelegates be free to vote for whomever they want; the other ⅔ won’t be elected still, but now must vote for whoever wins their state’s primaries and caucuses, according to the Washington Post.

Photo Credit: grantmillerphotography.com

Photo Credit: grantmillerphotography.com

Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

Photo Credit: wikipedia.org

What are the Democratic and Republican National Conventions?

After all of the primaries and caucuses of each party are held, the parties hold their national conventions. CGP Grey said that these conventions are when all of the delegates and superdelegates come and officially cast their votes. Usually, conventions are just rubber stamps and a series of big parties for the party nominee for President and Vice President because the amount of delegate each candidate wins would have already been known after the end of primary/caucus season.

At the conventions, the parties also officially adopt party platforms or their new ideologies. After these conventions, general election season has officially started! The 2020 Republican National Convention will be held at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina from August 24 to 27, 2020, while the 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Michigan from July 13 to 16, 2020. While these conventions are restricted to politicians, their staff, reporters, and the delegates, you can still watch both of them live at c-span.org, a nonpartisan live-streaming news service.

What is the General Election and the Electoral College?

The general election is simply the final election that will determine who will be President and Vice President. All of the United States House of Representatives, 33 seats of the United States Senate, and 13 governors’ seats will be contested as well.

The Electoral College is the method by which a presidential candidate and their running mate (the person they want to be Vice President) is chosen for the office of President and Vice President. It is similar to the delegates in a party primary, where citizens vote for delegates (now called “electors”) who then vote for a candidate. And just like a primary delegate, an Electoral College elector can also be unpledged (now called “faithless”) electors. Faithless electors though, do face fines in most but not all states if they don’t vote for the candidate who won their state’s popular vote.

There are 538 electors in the Electoral College. Each state gets a number of electors equal to the sum of their US Representatives and US Senators (eg. Minnesota has 10 electors from having 8 US Representatives and 2 US Senators). The candidate who wins more than half of the electors (270 in this case) receives the Presidency.

Now that you know how the process of electing a President and Vice President is chosen, the only thing left to do is to choose a candidate to root for or vote for if you can or will be able to at the age of 18 and possess American citizenship. It’s important for us to be aware of our country’s political system, so be sure to remember to participate and be informed!