Sunday, 31 August 2014

U.S. Mid-Term Elections, Part II: Choosing the Candidates

Sample ballots posted on Primary
Day, June 4, 2014, Harpswell ME
        If someone wants to run for office in Maine as a party candidate, they have to win the party's support. This doesn't mean convincing party officials they're the best man or woman for the job. It means the regular members of the party, the voters, have to choose them in a primary election to be the candidate.
         Imagine that John Jones and Mary Smith both want to run as the Democrat candidate for U.S. Congress. Both of them have to get on the primary election ballot. To do this, they have to find at least 1000 Democrat Party members who will sign a document called a "nominating petition." John and Mary, and their supporters, will go to  supermarkets, shopping centers and public events to ask for the signatures. They need to make sure the signatures are from registered Democrat voters who are legal residents of the voting district John and Mary want to represent.
          One thousand signatures isn't too hard. Let's say John and Mary both meet this goal. The office of the Secretary of the State of Maine verifies the signatures on the petition. Then both John's and Mary's names go on the Democrat primary ballot.
In Maine, only voters who are registered party members can vote in a party primary. Sometimes as many as six or eight people will try to win their party's nomination. Sometimes only one person seeks the nomination. For example, Governor LePage had no challenger for the Republican nomination for governor this year. It made no difference. He still had to get at least 2000 signatures--more than someone running for the U.S. House--to put his name on the primary ballot. Without going through the primary process, he could not compete in the general election as a Republican.
          On the first Tuesday in June, the primary election is held. By Wednesday, the political parties have their candidates. Usually, the losing primary candidates will "concede" and congratulate the winner. Then they offer their support to the winner in the general election.
          Independent candidates don't need to worry about a primary election. They just need to collect enough voter signatures to get their names on the ballot for the general election. An independent needs double the number of signatures that a party candidate needs.  Once an independent gets the signatures needed to be on the ballot,  the next thing challenge is to find money for the general campaign. There can be several independents running for the same office against the party candidates.
           Winners in a party primary have a financial advantage because once they are selected by the voters as the party candidate, the state party will use its money to support their campaign. Money may also come from interest groups and the national party. A LOT of money is being spent in 2014.
          The selection process varies from state to state but in all cases, the voters choose the person they want to run from their party. Voters decide based on the story the candidates tell about their background and the reasons why they say they want to be elected.
           These messages are equally important in the general election.

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