The Origins of the Direct Primary

Authored by: John F. Reynolds

Routledge Handbook of Primary Elections

Print publication date:  February  2018
Online publication date:  February  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138684089
eBook ISBN: 9781315544182
Adobe ISBN:


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The United States Constitution holds the states mainly responsible for administrating elections. Consequently, it was the state legislatures that ushered in direct primary laws stipulating that political parties hold government supervised elections whereby voters determined their respective party nominees. Prior to that time, candidates commonly won their party’s endorsement in conventions of party officials meeting at the local, state, and national levels. The direct primary was one of a number of changes in electoral procedures dating from the Progressive Era (1890–1920): the Australian ballot, women’s suffrage, the direct election of United States Senators, the initiative and referendum, and campaign finance laws. The collective impact of these changes in the rules of the game was soon apparent. A party-dominated political system dating back to Jacksonian times evolved into a candidate-centered political process marked by waning partisanship and diminished voter turnout.

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