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Major Difference Between Primary and General Elections Explained

Vijith Menon May 13, 2019
Primary elections are for county offices of mayor and municipal commissioner, while general elections are for the position of Senator and House of Representatives seat. Normal citizens may be confused, so read to clear any confusion, by comparing some points about the both.

Did You Know?

The United States Virgin Islands is the only part of the United States that is unable to vote in the general elections that determines the President of the United States.
Elections are held in almost all countries around the world, and garner huge media and public, not for the politics or mudslinging drama that takes place between the candidates, but because it represents a choice. Elections gives us an opportunity to pick the right candidate, the one who will decide the future in times to come.
Even being a part of a country that practices free speech, some of us forget our most fundamental right to vote. Some of us prefer not to, as we are too naive about the process. There are two types of elections - primary and general. While everyone knows about the general election, some might be unaware of primaries that take place before the general one.

What is a Primary Election?

▣ A primary election is one which is held to determine the candidate running for public office. Primaries are held for the mayor's office, legislators, city councilors, as well as county commissioners. The election is decided between candidates of the same party.
▣ Primaries are of two types - open, closed. Open primaries accept votes from all voters or general public to decide candidate for a public office, or nominee for the general election. In open primaries, citizens who voted for a particular party can vote for another.
Closed primaries only allow party members to vote and select a candidate within party ranks; this helps promote party unity.

What is a General Election?

▣ A general election is held to determine a final choice among all party nominees and independent candidates for the role of President.

▣ In general elections, the 'House of Representatives' elections are held every two years, called midterm elections. Senate elections are held every four years to determine the two senate representatives from each state.
▣ Midterm elections can change the role the government plays, as the ruling party has the right to pass bills which eventually become laws. The election is decided between candidates of opposing parties.

▣ In a general election, the Presidential candidate always picks a running mate (Vice President) from a different state to get maximum votes.
▣ All general elections are open elections, which means that anyone from the public can cast their vote.

When is it Held?

▣ A primary election is usually held in May or August, and always a year before the general elections.

▣ The general election is always held in November.

Number of Candidates

▣ Primary elections are always held between two or more candidates of the same party. Only voters registered with the affiliated party can vote in this election.
▣ General elections are held between 2 candidates of opposing parties. All voters are allowed to vote for the general elections, as they are open. If one votes for a Democratic candidate in the primary, he can vote for the Republican candidate if he chooses to in the general election.

What is the Purpose of a Primary Election?

▣ The purpose of a primary election is to determine the amount of support party leaders have in their respective constituencies.

▣ The result of a primary election determines the candidacy for a Presidential nominee. They can be used even to determine other government positions.
▣ Non-partisan races or independent candidates are allowed to race, without fear of any political party affiliation.

▣ Further, the primary election helps build a platform on which the Presidential candidate will decide to run.

▣ Primary elections are held between individuals of the same party to determine the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidate.

What is the Purpose of a General Election?

▣ The purpose of holding a general election is to determine the winner of the Presidential race.

▣ To be nominated for the general election, you need to win the primary election first.
In a primary election, individuals vote for the candidate eligible for office of mayor, county, governor, etc. Meanwhile, in a general election, voters actually vote for state electors that represent the party. Those elected then vote for the President in an electoral college.
The electoral votes are opened in the Capitol building by the current Vice President. The winner needs a minimum of 270 electoral votes to be named President of the United States.