18 Elections

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Compare the primary and caucus systems
  • Discuss the three types of elections used in Texas

Primary Election versus Caucus

The most common method of picking a party nominee for state, local, and presidential contests is the primary. Party members use a ballot to indicate which candidate they desire for the party nominee. Despite the ease of voting using a ballot, primary elections have a number of rules and variations that can still cause confusion for citizens. In a closed primary, only members of the political party selecting nominees may vote. A registered Green Party member, for example, is not allowed to vote in the Republican or Democratic primary. Parties prefer this method, because it ensures the nominee is picked by voters who legitimately support the party. An open primary allows all voters to vote. In this system, a Green Party member is allowed to pick either a Democratic or Republican ballot when voting.

Despite the common use of the primary system, at least five states (Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Colorado, and Iowa) regularly use caucuses for presidential, state, and local-level nominations. A caucus is a meeting of party members in which nominees are selected informally. Caucuses are less expensive than primaries because they rely on voting methods such as dropping marbles in a jar, placing names in a hat, standing under a sign bearing the candidate’s name, or taking a voice vote. Volunteers record the votes and no poll workers need to be trained or compensated. The party members at the caucus also help select delegates, who represent their choice at the party’s state- or national-level nominating convention.The caucus has its proponents and opponents. Many argue that it is more interesting than the primary and brings out more sophisticated voters, who then benefit from the chance to debate the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates. The caucus system is also more transparent than ballots. The local party members get to see the election outcome and pick the delegates who will represent them at the national convention. There is less of a possibility for deception or dishonesty. Opponents point out that caucuses take two to three hours and are intimidating to less experienced voters. These factors, they argue, lead to lower voter turnout. And they have a point—voter turnout for a caucus is generally 20 percent lower than for a primary.[1]

Regardless of which nominating system the states and parties choose, states must also determine which day they wish to hold their nomination. When the nominations are for state-level office, such as governor, the state legislatures receive little to no input from the national political parties. In presidential election years, however, the national political parties pressure most states to hold their primaries or caucuses in March or later. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are given express permission by the national parties to hold presidential primaries or caucuses in January or February. Both political parties protect the three states’ status as the first states to host caucuses and primaries, due to tradition and the relative ease of campaigning in these smaller states.

Types of Elections in Texas

Texas uses three types of elections: 1. Primaries, 2. General, and 3. Special.

  1. Primary Elections in Texas are open-primaries, although if a majority vote is not reached a run off election is required. Run off elections are closed-primaries. The goal of Texas primary elections is to choose the best candidate to represent their political party.
  2. General Elections– General, or regular, elections will determine a winner and a plurality vote is required. The goal of a general election is to win office.
  3. Special Elections– Special elections are called by the Texas Legislature and are typically used for constitutional amendments or filling vacant offices.

  1. "Voter Turnout," http://www.electproject.org/home/voter-turnout/voter-turnout-data. (November 3, 2015).


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