It might comes as a surprise to many Americans to learn
that there is not one word about political parties in the
U.S. Constitution. Not one word.
In fact, there were no real parties in the nation until the days
of President Andrew Jackson. Before that, and after George
Washington left office, there were political factions and groups,
but there were no true parties.
It was only in 1856 when the U.S. presidential election first
pitted today's major parties against each other, although in 1860
there were three major parties (the Democratic Party of that era
had split in two over slavery). In 1912, former President
Theodore Roosevelt ran for president as the nominee of the
Bull Moose Party, and came in second ahead of Republican
incumbent William Howard Taft.
What is in the Constitution is a specific process for qualifying
and electing a president (and vice president) after the voting has
taken place in each state in November. The Constitution does
specify that the election process is the right and responsibility
of the individual states, each of which is to determine their own
rules and process of selecting electors. Those electors (one for
each member of that state’s delegation to the U.S. house of
representatives plus two electors from each state matching the
number of U.S. senators in its delegation.
Technically speaking, there is no "popular vote" for president
and vice president of the United States. Less than 500 electors
actually choose them.
The Constitution also specifies the specific qualifications for a
president and vice president, and for the procedures to replace
them should a vacancy in those offices occur.
The process of selecting nominees for president has nothing to
do with the Constitution, and the U.S. supreme court has no
jurisdiction in this process. The high court does, however, have
jurisdiction over the actual election of the president by the
electoral college, as became very clear when the supreme court
made the final decision in the controversial 2000 presidential
All of the above has not seemed very relevant until this year
when the 2016 election cycle has been transformed by
extraordinary controversies in each of the two major political
The bottom line is this: the political party organizations of
each state have virtually absolute control of their delegations
to the national party conventions, and the national party
organizations have virtually absolute control of their own
conventions, as well as who is nominated.
Before 2016, these seemed to be only technicalities and not
However, the remarkable “mutiny” of voters this year against
the “establishment” in both the Democratic and Republican
Parties has made the technicalities to be of critical importance.
One more point: the votes of Democrats and Republicans in
state primaries and caucuses are only recommendations to
their state parties. Each state party has the power to determine
who will be the delegates to their national conventions. The
state of Pennsylvania perhaps highlights this fact best. The
“popular vote” in next Tuesday’s state primary will only
determine a small percentage of whom the state’s delegates
will vote for in Cleveland in July. Most of the delegates are
elected separately on the Keystone State’s ballot next Tuesday,
and most of them go to the convention uncommitted. In
Georgia, Donald Trump won all of the state’s delegates in its
February primary, but the actual delegates are selected by the
state party; many of them might actually be for another
Thus, delegate counts based on primary and caucus results are
likely to be very misleading.
Furthermore, each party is sending so-called “super-delegates”
to their conventions. They are picked by the states’ party
organizations, and can vote for whomever they wish on any
When all is said and claimed, unless the contesting candidates
trailing the frontrunners in each party quit the race, we cannot
know for sure who will be the 2016 nominees until the ballots
at the conventions are over, especially the nominee of the
That is the bottom line.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.