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Definition: Primary Election

With the wall-to-wall coverage of primaries and caucuses these days, it can be tough to sort out what it all means. Primary elections determine which hopefuls from each political party will advance to earn that party's nomination and represent that party during the general election. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, if you think your vote directly influences that outcome, it's not as straight forward as it sounds.


Each state gets to choose whether to have an open or closed primary (or somewhere in between.) If your state has an open primary, it means you can cast a ballot for any candidate regardless of your party affiliation. This method leaves the choice open to sneaky strategies like using your vote to make sure the opposing party gets stuck with the weakest candidate.
Curious about your own state? Check here for a run-down.

The tricky feature to remember is that during a primary, you're not actually casting a direct ballot for a candidate – you're casting a ballot for a state delegate, who will then take the state's ballot totals to the convention. Each party's national committee distributes the allotted amount of delegates for each state. The outcome of your vote at the primary, is a delegate vote at the convention, and an eventual majority of delegate votes for one candidate — and now the election really starts!

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