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What is the difference between a Caucus and Primary Election?

from: Jessica Myers on Feb 22, 2012

Ask the EAC 2.22.12

What is the difference between a Caucus and Primary Election?

Increasingly, we receive questions about the differences between caucuses and primary elections. Presidential Preference Primaries and Caucuses are an opportunity for voters of each Party to vote to determine their Party’s candidate for President and/or to choose delegates to participate in that Party’s National Convention, where the Party officially nominates their candidate for President.

Presidential Preference Primary, Primary and Caucus

Some states hold a Presidential Preference Primary (PPE) separate from their Statewide Primary while other states hold the two together and refer to the election as a Primary Election. In PPE and Primary elections, the election is governed by the regulations imposed by State and Local Election Officials and handled by State and Local Election Officials. In the EAC Election Updates, you will notice we try to draw the distinction between these two types of Primaries and only list PPE, Primary, General and Special Elections. For more information about PPE and Primary elections, please contact your state’s election office.

On the other hand, caucuses are conducted and governed by the rules of the State Party. Voters attend local private events or meetings run by their political party and cast their vote, rather than casting a ballot at a polling place or by mail. Federal, state and local election laws do not apply to these events, as they are governed by Party rules. Caucuses are not handled by State or Local Election Officials, so we do not list them in our Election Updates. For more information about caucuses, please contact your State Party headquarters.

Open Primary vs. Closed Primary

A closed primary is open to voters who have indicated a party preference on their voter registration form. Some states allow for a semi-close primary, where voters who are unaffiliated are able to select a party for purposes of voting in the primary. Upon arrival at a polling place on Election Day, voters are provided with a ballot for their registered party.

An open primary allows voters to vote in any party’s primary as long as the voter is properly registered.

If you have additional questions, please comment below, contact Jessica Myers at jmyers@eac.gov or via Twitter (@EACgov).


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2/22/2012 10:10:00 AM
What is the difference between a Caucus and Primary Election?

Increasingly, we receive questions about the differences between caucuses and primary elections.