Editor's note: The author of this piece, Michael Bennett, is Manatee County's Supervisor of Elections.
What is the purpose of the presidential preference primary?
There are many different thoughts about what a presidential preference primary (PPP) does for our political system. I've put together an explanation to help better understand the upcoming primary along with what the difference is between a primary and a caucus.
This is in response to phone calls and emails to the elections office regarding eligibility to vote in the March 15 Florida primary. The following also explains how to change your party affiliation and ensure your vote with Vote By Mail -- which you can track online.
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Presidential preference primary verses caucus
Presently, caucuses are used in several states, but the majority use a primary. Caucuses were at one time the most common way of choosing presidential nominees.
This has changed over time, driven by both of the major parties. The primary elections are conducted by state and local governments, while caucuses are private events that are run directly by the political parties themselves.
Using Iowa as an example, the caucus consists of voters from 774 Iowa voting precincts meeting on one specific day to elect delegates that attend county conventions. From the county conventions, delegates are chosen for the state party conventions. Eventually, each state party convention elects delegates to attend the national party conventions where a presidential nominee is selected. Both Democratic and Republican processes are similar in Iowa. Voters in Iowa do not have the opportunity to vote early vote or vote by mail. They must be present on the day of the election to vote in the caucus.
Presidential preference primary
Using Florida, a closed primary state, as one example, voters who are registered with one of the two major parties vote for their preferred candidate by voting by mail, early voting or going to their precinct on Election Day.
Who can vote in the March 15 presidential preference primary?
Florida is a closed primary state which means, voters who are registered with one of the two major parties (Democratic or Republican) may vote in the PPP. Voters without party affiliation are not eligible to vote for party candidates in the upcoming PPP.
However, if you wish to vote in the PPP, you have until Feb. 16 to change your party affiliation to one of the two major parties, enabling you to vote. After the primary you can change your party affiliation back again if you wish.
Please note: To change your party affiliation, you must do this in writing by using a voter registration application or signed written notice. Your date of birth is required, along with your address and signature and date. This can be returned to the Supervisor of Elections office by U.S. Mail, email, fax or in person. This must be done 29 days before the PPP (by Feb. 16). You cannot change your party at the polling place.
What happens with the results of the presidential preference primary?
The winning candidates from each party will be represented at the national conventions by delegates who are selected and allocated according to each party's rules. Each party at their national convention will select the candidate from their party who will run for president on the November election ballot.
How do I ensure my opportunity to vote?
The very best way is to sign up to Vote By Mail. With Vote By Mail you still have the option to vote at your precinct, or if unforeseen circumstances prevent you from getting there on Election Day, your Vote By Mail ballot can be dropped off at the Supervisor's office up to 7 p.m. when the polls close.
It also gives you the opportunity to take time and research the candidates and issues on your particular ballot. It keeps you informed and protects your voting options.
You can choose to send in your Vote By Mail ballot or bring it to any early voting location during dates and times listed below. If you choose to vote at the polls, bring your Vote By Mail ballot and surrender it to the clerk to be able to vote in person.
Important dates to remember for the PPP
Deadline to change your party affiliation: Feb. 16, 2016
Deadline to register to vote: Feb. 16, 2016
Deadline to sign up to Vote By Mail: March 9, 2016
Early voting dates and times for the PPP: March 5-12, 2016, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at all five early voting locations.
Early voting locations
Supervisor of Elections office, 600 301 Blvd. W., Bradenton
Palmetto Library, 923 6th St. W., Palmetto, NEW THIS YEAR!
Rocky Bluff Library, 6750 US Hwy. 301, Ellenton
Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, 8175 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
West Manatee Fire & Rescue Administration, 7617 3rd Ave. W., Bradenton, NEW THIS YEAR!
Election dates in 2016
Presidential preference primary and Longboat Key Election, March 15
Primary election, Aug. 30
General election and municipal elections, Nov. 8
Trailer Estates, Dec. 6
Visit us online at www.VoteManatee.com or stop by my office to obtain a Voter Guide, which offers: election dates for 2016 and 2017, details on the new voting equipment, how to register to vote, what to expect at the polls, voting by mail, voter's bill of rights and responsibilities, and complete details on voting in Manatee County.
I welcome your questions and comments; contact me at 941-741-3823 or Mike@VoteManatee.com.