By Barbara Kaufman
How Do Mainers Choose Presidential Candidates?
Maine uses a municipal caucus system to select national Presidential candidates. Caucuses are held by the political parties in towns and cities around the state. Caucus-goers select delegates who are pledged to support a specific presidential candidate at each qualified party’s state convention. For this election cycle, the qualified parties are the Maine Democratic, Green and Republican Parties. These parties must hold their conventions before August 1 this year.
Caucus goers must be registered voters who are also enrolled in the party whose caucus they wish to attend. You can register to vote at your local municipal offices.
If you are unenrolled in a party or unregistered, you can register and enroll up to and including on caucus day. If you are already registered but wish to permanently or temporarily switch your party enrollment so that you can attend a specific caucus, you must do so 15 days prior to that caucus. If you then wish to change enrollment, you must wait until 3 months after the initial change to switch party affiliation again. NOTE: In the general election you must be a registered voter (and can register at the polls) but you do not need to be enrolled in a party.
Search http://www.maine.gov/local/ to find your Town Clerk’s address for voter registration and local election information.
If you want a brief overview of how different states select presidential nominees, please see: http://lwv.org/blog/everything-you-need-know-about-presidential-primaries
Dates to remember
March 1, 2016: Super Tuesday: Several states hold their primaries or caucuses. For a look at 2016 election dates, click on the Real Clear Politics calendar: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/elections/election_dates/
March 5, 2016: Maine Republican Caucuses. For more information:
March 6, 2016: Maine Democratic Caucuses. For more information: http://www.mainedems.org/page/2016-caucus-and-convention
TBD: Maine Green Party Caucuses in each county: http://www.mainegreens.org/caucus
November 8, 2016: Election Day
History of Presidential Primaries and Caucuses in Maine
Prior to 1995, Maine had a law allowing qualified political parties the option to hold a Presidential Primary Election after January 1st of the presidential election year. However, the decision process was complex and parties traditionally indicated their preference for presidential candidates at the biennial municipal caucuses. In 1995, the Maine Legislature replaced the Presidential Primary law with a new Presidential Preference Primary law, simplifying the process considerably. In both 1996 and 2000, the major qualified political parties (Democratic and Republican) opted to hold Presidential Preference Primaries. In 2003, the Maine Legislature repealed the Presidential Preference Primary law. Therefore, in 2004 and subsequent election years, the parties have reverted to the biennial municipal caucuses to indicate their support for presidential candidates.
The major political parties hold biennial municipal caucuses. In order to be designated a “qualified party,” the party must hold biennial municipal caucuses before March 20 in at least one municipality in 14 of the 16 counties in the State during general election years. At this time, the three qualified parties are the Maine Democratic Party, the Maine Green Independent Party, and the Maine Republican Party. Among the most important purposes of the caucus are the following:
- Electing delegates to the party’s state convention
- Electing municipal party officers.
The procedures for conducting the municipal caucus are largely determined by the caucus itself and by party rules. The political party also determines the number of state convention delegates to which a municipality is entitled.
Notice of the municipal caucus is to be published as follows:
- Published in a local newspaper between 3 and 7 days before the caucusOR
- Posted in a public place in each voting district of the municipality seven days before the caucus.
The chairman or a majority of the members of a municipal committee of the party may call municipal caucuses. If there is no municipal committee in your town, any resident voter enrolled in a party may call a caucus for the purpose of electing the municipal committee and for conducting other business following party rules.
If you have a question about your party’s caucus in your municipality, contact state party officials.
State and National Conventions
Each qualified party must hold a state convention between March 1 and August 1 during general election years, that is, every two years in the even-numbered years. Among the most important purposes of the state convention are the following:
- Adopting a platform for the next general election
- Electing state and county officers
- Electing delegates to the national party conventions
- Nominating presidential electors.
Delegates to the national nominating convention are typically chosen based on the results of the caucuses in the state and are pledged to support a specific candidate. Although the party nominee is widely known long before the national convention actually takes place, the convention is the official mechanism by which a party’s presidential and vice presidential candidates are chosen.