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Every four years, citizens of the United States go to the polls to cast their votes for a new president. But the rules of electing a president in November and the rules governing how American political parties nominate their candidates for the presidency differ in important respects. In the general election, voters in each state choose electors, who subsequently vote for the president. The candidate who receives the majority of the electors’ votes becomes president. Although there have been calls to abolish the Electoral College, Americans have largely relied on the same system since 1804—when the Twelfth Amendment altered important aspects of how the Electoral College works—to decide the outcome of their general presidential election. In contrast to the relatively stable rules governing the general election, the rules by which American political parties nominate their presidential candidates have changed dramatically over the past two hundred years.
National convention delegates are chosen through a bewildering array of procedures that vary from state to state. Because states, for the most part, determine not only whether parties hold a primary or caucus, but also which voters are eligible to participate, delegates arrive at the national convention having been selected by very different constituencies that have very different policy ideas and very different levels of commitment to their respective parties.
The result is that neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party is able to express a clear ideological message through its presidential nominations. Presidential candidates seeking to win delegates in different state elections must appeal to the electorate in each state—and the state electorates differ greatly because the state-imposed voter eligibility rules differ greatly from state to state. As a result, candidates who articulate a clear and consistent message will draw different levels of support from the primary electorate in the various states, even when their messages appeal to similar proportions of party members and non-party members in each state.
The way American citizens elect a president in November is enshrined in the Constitution and has remained unchanged for two hundred years. By contrast, the rules by which American political parties nominate their presidential candidates have evolved dramatically over time. In recent years, these byzantine rules have allowed a number of unexpected candidates to win their party's presidential nomination. In The Best Candidate, a roster of leading election law scholars from across the political spectrum - true-blue Democrats, die-hard Republicans, and everyone in between - illuminate the law behind the modern presidential nomination process and offer ideas for how it can be improved. This book offers a blueprint for how American voters and their parties could nominate the best candidate for the presidency, and it should be read by anyone who cares about the occupant of the Oval Office.
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