Remember civics class ... and not paying attention? These days, we need that civics lesson more than ever. The Civics Project is a fact-based, nonpartisan weekly column meant to answer your most basic questions about how the American government and political system are supposed to work.
Question: I voted for former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, but now that he is out of the race, I’d like to vote for someone else. How do I do that?
Answer: Well, typically, you don’t.
As great as early voting is for boosting voter turnout, this is one of the pitfalls. In most states -- like Florida -- you only get to vote once, and if your candidate drops out, you don’t get to vote for your second choice. There are several states, like Michigan, that allow you to change or cancel your early or mail-in vote, but the timing, rules and requirements vary. Few people take advantage of that opportunity.
If you are not sure about your candidate or their viability, it might be a good idea to wait until closer to the election or even wait until Election Day.
But let’s be honest, you’re going to feel pressure to vote early. Candidates, as well as elections officials typically push voters to go to the polls early. There is a practical reason for that. Campaigns like to get the votes in early before you either change your mind or perhaps forget to cast your ballot. This is called banking votes. A really strong early vote can sometimes carry a candidate to victory even if they perform poorly on the day of the election. Elections officials like it because there are far less ballots -- read that, less potential for errors -- to deal with on Election Day.
Question: How can someone run as a Democrat when they are a registered Independent?
Answer: Quite simply, because they get to choose to be a Democrat. Our political parties are not exactly closed, private organizations. Anyone can decide to be a Democrat or a Republican. They can also change their mind as many times as they like.
Typically, the only real indicator of your party affiliation is the party you choose when you register to vote. There is no test when you register, you can choose your party for any reason. Every year, you might hear of people that try to register with the party they oppose so they can cause mischief in the primaries by voting for the person they believe is the weakest. By the way, there’s not much evidence that this is an effective strategy.
Even party registration isn’t universal. Some states do not register voters by party. Vermont, for example, does not have you choose a party when you register to vote. Voters in Vermont get to choose which party primary they would like to vote in.
But, they do have to choose only one. A voter in Vermont could change their choice of which party primary to vote in each election cycle depending on which race is the most interesting to them.
Each state, along with the party organizations control access to the actual ballot. In some states it is pretty easy to be a part of a primary or caucus. In Iowa, normally you just need people to show up at the party caucus and support you. If you get enough support, you can win delegates to the party convention.
Some states make it quite a bit harder. In many states you need petitions from a set number or percentage of registered members of the party. Sometimes you need petitions from each county. In others, you are put on the ballot by the state party leadership, or even through the state elections official like the secretary of state. These rules can differ from state to state, and from year to year.
The bottom line: if a person wants to run for a party nomination, assuming they can navigate the patchwork of rules and laws, they pretty much can.
Kevin Wagner is a noted constitutional scholar, and political science professor at Florida Atlantic University. The answers provided do not represent the views of the university.
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