Primary Election Law and Legal Definition

The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to hold elections, but the method and place are left to the states, with Congress having the power to alter their regulations. Political candidates are usually chosen by delegate convention, direct primary, nonpartisan primaries, or petition. The candidate who receives the most votes is usually elected, but an absolute majority may be required. A primary election is one in which the candidates for a particular office are chosen. After the preliminary primary election, a general election is held to fill the office with one of the candidates chosen in the primary election.

An open primary is a primary election in which voters may cast votes on a ballot of any party. This is different from a closed primary, in which voters are limited by party affiliation. A blanket primary, is a variation of the open primary system, but very few states use it. A voter receives a “blanket” ballot which allows him or her to vote for any candidate from any party. In a closed primary, a Democratic voter receives a Democratic ballot, a Republican voter receives a Republican ballot, and so forth. In an open primary, a voter may request a ballot from any political party, regardlessof his or her personal party affiliation.

The following is an example of a Federal statute defining primary election:

According to 11 CFR 100.2 [Title 11 Federal Elections; Chapter I Federal Election Commission; Subchapter A General ;Part 100 Scope and Definitions (2 U.S.C. 431); Subpart A General Definitions], a primary election is an election which meets one of the following conditions:

(1) An election which is held prior to a general election, as a direct result of which candidates are nominated, in accordance with applicable State law, for election to Federal office in a subsequent election is a primary election.

(2) An election which is held for the expression of a preference for the nomination of persons for election to the office of President of the United States is a primary election.

(3) An election which is held to elect delegates to a national nominating convention is a primary election.

(4) With respect to individuals seeking federal office as independent candidates, or without nomination by a major party (as defined in 26 U.S.C. 9002(6)), the primary election is considered to occur on one of the following dates, at the choice of the candidate:

(i) The day prescribed by applicable State law as the last day to qualify for a position on the general election ballot may be designated as the primary election for such candidate.

(ii) The date of the last major party primary election, caucus, or convention in that State may be designated as the primary election for such candidate.

(iii) In the case of non-major parties, the date of the nomination by that party may be designated as the primary election for such candidate. /

(5) With respect to any major party candidate (as defined at 26 U.S.C. 9002(6)) who is unopposed for nomination within his or her own party, and who is certified to appear as that party's nominee in the general election for the office sought, the primary election is considered to have occurred on the date on which the primary election was held by the candidate's party in that State.