Can Primary Elections Be Canceled?

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 16: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as he walks toward Marine One while departing from the White House on May 16, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump is traveling to New York to attend a fundraiser.   (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
By Andrew Leonatti on September 23, 2019 8:00 AM

Primaries play an important role in the election process. They allow voters to work out what qualities and policies they want their party’s standard-bearer to display and advocate for. They are a far cry from the “smoke-filled room” days when party bigwigs met in secret to decide who would represent the party in a general election.  

Imagine how different the elections of 2008, won by the young change agent Barack Obama, and 2016, in which Donald Trump effectively channeled the country’s anger, could have turned out if both were kept from getting their party’s nod by the powers that be.

Four States Cancel GOP Primaries so Far

But once your candidate gets into office, parties usually work doggedly to protect them. And that is the case this year, as, so far, the Republican Party organizations in South Carolina, Nevada, Alaska, Arizona, and Kansas have voted to scrap their primaries and caucuses. While most of the states in question claim cost savings as the motivation, the moves are more likely designed to consolidate the party behind President Trump and allow him to focus on winning reelection.

But Trump also has three primary challengers, who voters in those states now will not get the chance to support.

"I believe that political parties are about ideas, and ideas are refined and made stronger by debate and that's what primaries are about," said former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, one of Trump’s challengers.

Parties Can Basically Do What They Want

While some GOP voters may fume, there is little that they can do about it. Parties largely control their nominating processes. Some choose to use the caucus process, while others choose a primary. Some allow only registered party members to participate, while others allow all voters to participate.

In fact, several states have canceled primaries in the past when presidents running for reelection were running unopposed. South Carolina canceled GOP primaries in 1984 and 2004, while the Democrats scrapped their 1996 and 2012 primaries.

Essentially, if you don’t like it, you have two choices: Vote for candidates to your state party’s central committee who reflect your views or try to get elected yourself.

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