Thursday, March 8, 2012

You there in the back, I see your hand.

***in response to Shooting Parrots waving wildly***

In the comments section of my last post (which I hope was not my last post, if you know what I mean), Ian what’s-his-name from Lancashire who calls himself Shooting Parrots for reasons
I won’t go into had two excellent questions, and I said I would answer them in my next post.

So I will.

His questions were:

1. Exactly who covers the cost of these pre-election elections? Is it the state (the government, I mean) or is it the party?

2. And what would happen if there were three, four, five or six other political parties? Would they have to hold primaries too?

So there really weren’t two questions at all. There were four. Shooting Parrots is a sly old fox.

Let me answer the questions one at a time, if I can.

But first, a little background is in order. The U.S., as most of you know (even though in Beaverton, Oregon, in May, 2008, a very tired then-Senator Obama didn’t seem to), is made up of 50 states and several territories. Each one makes its own rules concerning the holding of elections (and lots of other things, too, like the minimum age to acquire a driver’s license, whether gay people can get married, and the like), and Georgia is no exception in that regard. Although this may seem unnecessarily messy and frightfully inconsistent to you, we do things that way over here in accordance with the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the idea being that a powerful centralized government was probably not a good thing. [Editor’s note. The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (out of 27 adopted since 1789) are known collectively as The Bill of Rights. --RWP]

There is an official election code, and it is so complicated that even the scoring scheme in the game of Farkle seems simple in comparison, so I will assume that Ian really doesn’t want me to go into that much depth and just let it go with a passing mention that it exists.

Furthermore, although I'm sure that if I looked long enough I could find the answers to Ian's questions online, I will provide the answers from the vast storehouse of my brain's pre-ingested knowledge without referring to any other authoritative or encyclopedic source of any kind.

So I could be wrong.

***your correspondent takes two aspirin and lies down for half an hour***

Now on with answering Ian’s questions.

First off, a primary is not “a pre-election election,” it is an election in its own right. In some states, only Democrats can vote in the Democrat Primary and only Republicans can vote in the Republican Primary. In the states of Georgia and Wisconsin and perhaps a few others, however, “open” or “crossover” primaries are held in which voters can choose either party’s Primary ballot. Voters in Open Primary states can effectively sabotage their opposing party’s primary by voting for the candidate their own candidate can most easily defeat. Isn’t that special? (Of course, they run the risk that the candidate they prefer in their own party will lose because they chose not to cast their vote in their own primary -- except this year, when there is only one candidate on one of the ballots. Incumbency, like rank, has its privileges. But not always. If you remember, Senator Ted Kennedy ran against then-President Jimmy Carter in Democrat primaries in 1980.)

And, in an odd twist, if a runoff is necessary because no candidate received 50% of the vote in the primary, voters who participated in the primary can choose only the party whose ballot they chose in the original primary, unless they didn't participate in the original primary at all, in which case they are not, as you might think, barred from voting in the runoff but can choose either party’s ballot (if both parties are having runoffs) just like the folks who voted in the original primary. I hope I am making myself clear.

The election just completed was called a Presidential Preference Primary. The Democrat ballot contained one name and the Republican ballot contained nine names, I think, unless it was eleven. I kid you not. Didn't matter whether some have dropped out of the race. Georgia produced its ballot in January and was not going to pay good money to have it done over. [Editor’s note. If county election boards receive official notice from the Secretary of State that a candidate has withdrawn from the race, a written notice to the public to that effect is posted on the walls of each precinct on election day. In this election, no such notice was received from the Secretary of State. --RWP]

In the General Election (the big one in the fall), candidates of all parties appear on a single ballot and no choosing of ballots is necessary.

That being said, I think it is the government (that is, the taxpayers) who shoulder the cost of elections and runoffs. I do not think the parties contribute to the cost of holding an election as that might be interpreted as bribing an election official. If I am wrong, then I think it is intuitively obvious that parties would pay, or help pay, for the cost of elections and you can quote me on that.

Georgia will hold three elections in all this year. In July we will have the regular primaries of both major parties, in which candidates for such offices as sheriffs, mayors, members of school boards, county commissions, representatives to both houses of the State legislature, and representatives to the U.S. House of Representatives will be chosen. Georgia will not have an election for U.S. Senator this year since Senators are chosen every six years and both of our Senators are in the middle of their current terms. Then there will be the General Election in November.

In Georgia -- and again, I think I am correct but I’m not sure -- no party can hold a primary unless in the preceding Presidential election (one is held every four years) that party garnered at least 5% of the popular vote. Other states may have different rules. I believe that the Libertarian Party qualified to have a primary here a few years back. I don’t believe we have ever had a Green Party primary or a Socialist Workers Party primary in the state of Georgia, although their candidates and those of other parties do appear on the Federal election ballot in November.

The Georgia Secretary of State’s office, through each county’s Board of Elections, conducts the elections. Georgia has used touch-screen computerized ballots for about a decade now, but some states still use paper ballots or mechanical devices. Some states allow registration up to and including election day, but in Georgia a voter must have been registered for at least 30 days prior to an election. Registration is easily accomplished in a few minutes at either the public libraries or the offices where drivers’ licenses are issued and renewed.

In conclusion, I think the right way to look at it is not that the parties have to hold primaries but that the parties get to hold primaries.

Two posts back, Yorkshire Pudding asked me whether I thought Romney was really up to the job of being President of the U.S. but I am too tired to think about that now.


  1. Too tired? You'd best go and lie down again. The complexities of the American election system suggest that you'd be better off with a benevolent dictator - it'd be cheaper and much simpler. May I suggest the New York comedian Jackie Mason? Surely an intellectual giant when compared with Mutt Romney.

  2. All I have to say is: Happy Birthday for 'shortly', Robert ;-)

  3. If I were mean enough to emulate a certain Yorkshireman, I could say that the complexities of the British/English/U.K. (whatever you're calling it this week) parliamentary system suggest that he'd be better off with a tyrannical monarch like George III, surely an intellectual giant when compared with certain members of the House of Windsor-Mountbatten. But I am not that mean and so I won't.

    Katherine, thank you! But you're a tad early.

  4. Well I live and learn. What prompted my question was the media coverage. The system appears to be geared to allow Mitt Romney and co to raise their profiles at the tax payers' expense, but it is clearly more complicated than that. Byzantine in fact!

    But thanks you for the explanation. I am now a better informed spectator.