Super Tuesday Primary Elections

By Candace Lewis

For the politically-challenged among us, the tsunami-sized wave of frenzied media in a presidential-election year may not only bowl us over with confusion and bewilderment, but may also flood us with guilt for lacking intimate knowledge of the American electoral process.

image of millennials holding sign promoting voting to their generation
Photo: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters; from Millennials Could Determine the Presidential Election—but Will They Vote?

WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OUR AMERICAN ELECTORAL PROCESS…

March 1, for example, is “Super Tuesday”–that Tuesday in February or March of a presidential election year when the highest number of states hold their “Primary Elections”.

Sometimes called “nominating caucuses” or otherwise more simply called “Primaries,” this election asks citizens to vote for their preference of their political party’s presidential candidate or else to designate themselves as uncommitted to any candidate.  Primaries also avail voters in Tennessee a chance to choose as many political-party delegates as can be elected from their congressional district.

Delegate candidates commit themselves to represent a particular party hopeful like Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton  (in the voting booth, the delegate’s name may be seen alongside their chosen candidate) as their party’s nomination for Presidential candidate in the November General Election.  Should a delegate win enough votes in the Primary, they’re then certified to attend their party’s national convention in order to confirm their voters’ nomination preference on the convention’s floor in the summer.

HOW MARCH’S PRIMARIES ARE SIGNIFICANT IN THE ELECTORAL PROCESS…

Historically, the order & timing of state Primaries shaped the field of candidates hopeful for their party’s nomination as presidential candidate.

Early Primary results would help winning candidates both to gather momentum as summer party conventions approached and to marshal significant resources such as the endorsement of an intra-party rival who–upon failing to win any support in early Primaries–might have withdrawn from the nomination race and asked their supporters to endorse a party front-runner.

States were therefore compelled to hold their Primary as early as possible in order to exert influence over other states & to sway influence with a prospective future U.S. President.  To reduce this crush of so-called “front loaded” primaries, national-party rules were changed as of 2008 to require state Primaries be held after February in all but four (New Hampshire, South Carolina, Iowa & Nevada) of the United States.

HOW TENNESSEE’S PRIMARY IS SIGNIFICANT…

With early state Primaries no longer clinching a particular hopeful’s party nomination, the key to winning a presidential nomination shifted from winning particular state Primaries to winning delegates.

For this reason, Tennessee voters join those from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma to choose 1,010 party delegates up for grabs in the so-called “SEC Primary”.  This powerhouse coalition of Southern states–so named after the well-recognized south-eastern conferences (SEC) of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) college sports–significantly strengthens the electoral voice of its constituent states by creating a larger pool of party delegates than any single SEC state could avail by itself alone.

By offering nomination hopefuls this significant chunk of delegates, the SEC Primary entices the campaign trails of party candidates to ramble South in order to woo delegate voters.  In turn, such local visits generate media coverage and local buzz about the candidates and the platforms of issues each one is building as those that will be important to him or her as an elected President.

HOW YOUR VOTE IS SIGNIFICANT IN TENNESSEE …

Your vote in a Tennessee Primary election thus weighs the scale of those delegates pooled in the SEC Primary who will go forth to represent a Southern voice on party-convention floors over the summer.  Recognizing this, Tennessee opted to join the coalition of SEC-Primary states to make your vote matter in the process of choosing America’s own leaders.

So make your Primary vote matter by making it happen on March 1: vote at the polls and represent not only yourself but this state in this significant process in American democracy!

image of the word vote
Photo: Theresa Thompson; from https://flic.kr/p/5z2jST

RESOURCES

Qualifying Procedures – 2016 Presidential Delegates from the Secretary of State, Tennessee

Everything You Need to Know about Delegate Math in the Presidential Primary from the Washington Post

Everything You Need to Know About the Presidential Primaries from the League of Women Voters

Why the Presidential Primary Elections Are So Important from AboutNews

Note from Sarah Smith: find information about the history of elections, current news coverage, and anything else election-related from Thigpen Library’s collections.

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