When looking at the ballot for Indiana’s May 3rd primary, you can’t help but be overwhelmed. The primary is only a few weeks away, and will likely have a major influence on the outcomes of the national election.
On your May 3 ballot, you’ll see your party’s candidates for governor and state office as well as presidential nominees. But who are the delegates listed on the ballot and who are you actually voting for to represent your voice at the national level?
How Indiana’s Delegate System Works
“Everyone who’s voting in the primary votes for the state delegates who represent their district, so when the people of Monroe County go out to the polls, they’ll see a long list of delegates that they choose from to represent them at the state convention,” says Kyla Cox Deckard, former vice chair and deputy chair of the Monroe County Democratic party. She served as a state and national delegate for her party in 2012.
During the primary, anyone can register to run for a state delegate position for their party. But this process varies by state, by party, and even by county. In Monroe County, Democratic Party Chair Mark Fraley says their delegates are voted on by county council district.
“You can choose up to 15 people that you’d like to select as delegates to the state convention, and the people you select as delegates to the state convention, they have the ability to be able to vote for the national delegate,” Fraley says.
You will choose people you know, people you trust. They’re going to represent your vote for three races.
This year, the Monroe County GOP decided to run their delegate elections by township. County GOP Chair William Ellis says he did this to increase voter turnout and give those running in outlying areas of the county a more competitive chance at the ballot. These delegates will go to their party’s state convention in June.
“You will choose people you know, people you trust,” Ellis says. “They’re going to represent your vote for three races. There’s three races that are not chosen by the primary ballot by both parties: lieutenant governor, superintendent of public education, and attorney general.”
It’s those three positions, lieutenant governor, superintendent, and attorney general that state delegates vote for, but that’s not the only duty they’re responsible for.
“As state delegate, our role is to review the party platform and then vote on that, and then it is also to confirm our nominees for our state offices,” Cox Deckard says.
How Your Vote Impacts Delegates
The Democratic and Republican National Convention will take place later in the summer, but your vote on May 3 will still have a big impact on how each party’s national delegates vote.
For Democrats, it’s at their state convention that their delegation votes for national delegates to Indiana at the Democratic national convention.
“In the ninth congressional district we can elect 6 delegates to the national convention, 3 men and 3 women,” Fraley says. “This is a space that runs from between here in Bloomington to all the way until Kentucky, and so between all of that space, there’s going to be six people who are going to be elected delegates to the national convention.”
These national delegates will vote for presidential candidates proportionally to how Indiana votes. So if Hillary Clinton wins 60% of the votes in the ninth district, then she receives 4 of the district’s delegates.
There are also at-large delegates, at-large alternates, and Party Leader and Elected Official delegates that vote proportionally with the state. In addition, the Democratic party has super delegates that automatically go to their party’s national convention and can choose who they vote for.
For Republicans, the process is actually quite different. Those hoping to be a national delegate apply to their Congressional district, and then they’re judged by a closed caucus of party members. Each district has 3 delegates. There are an additional 27 at-large delegates and 3 automatic delegates which consist of 2 national committeeman and the party chair. The district delegates vote with your district, but the at-large delegates vote with the overall state. For example, if Trump wins your district and Cruz wins Indiana. The district delegates will vote for Trump and the at-large delegates will vote for Cruz.
This current election system of primaries and delegates is actually relatively new. For most of the United States’ history, party leaders chose who ran and who won elections. The country saw a shift in the 1960s and 70s which opened up the election process more to the American people. This combination of traditional politics and open elections can make the whole process seem confusing.
“When you think about it, it’s a little bit of a convoluted process,” Fraley says. “We elect people who then get to elect people who then get to elect…the president.”
When you think about it, it’s a bit of a convoluted process.
It may seem that among state delegates, national delegates, and super delegates, Hoosiers don’t have a voice in the national election, but your vote does influence how your own delegates vote.
Ellis says the best way to actually make your vote count this primary is to know who you’re voting for.
“I would ask the voters to meet some of your delegates, most of them are precinct committeemen, most of them have public phone numbers, find out if they represent you,” Ellis says. “It is really easy to pick four names or pick six names, but remember you’re picking those names to represent you, so you want to make sure the people that actually get there are resenting your interests because I don’t know your interests you do, so take some active involvement in that, I would say.”
And for those wondering why the Indiana primary is in May, it’s because of historic scheduling of primaries. Eight years ago former Governor Mitch Daniels proposed moving the state’s primary earlier, however, the proposal did not gain any traction because it would have fallen in the middle of the legislative session.