Selecting the US presidential candidates: a short guide to the primary system

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The selection of the Republican and Democratic candidates for November’s US presidential election, beginning on Monday with the Iowa Caucus, will be followed with interest around the world. Daniel Goldstein and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson explain how an eclectic mix of caucuses, primaries and superdelegates will decide who gets to run for the White House.

Ten months out from the US presidential election and, amidst one of the most unpredictable presidential election campaigns in recent memory, the process of selecting the Democratic and Republican nominees via state-level primaries and caucuses will begin on February 1 with the Iowa Caucus. A splintered Republican Party currently has two frontrunners for the nomination, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom lack support from current party leaders. Further, the seemingly inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton looks less assured as younger Democrats are supporting the distinctly more liberal Bernie Sanders, with recent polls showing Sanders could win the first two contests (Iowa and New Hampshire). The nomination season will serve to gauge the legitimacy of candidates with the voting public.

The process of selecting the party’s nominee is relatively straightforward. The two major parties allocate a certain number of ‘delegates’ to each of the 50 states and territories in which there are contests. Delegates are then allocated to candidates based on the results of state-level voting.  Delegates cast their vote for a candidate during their party’s national convention where the official party nominee for president is selected. To win the nomination, a candidate must win a majority of delegates. In 2016, the Republican nominee will require 1,237 of 2,472 total delegates and the Democratic nominee will require 2,383 of 4,764 delegates. This year the Iowa Caucus will have 52 Democratic delegates and 30 Republican delegates at stake.  Should Clinton, for example, win Iowa she will receive a plurality of the 52 delegates (but almost certainly not all 52), who will then be ‘bound’ to vote for her at the Democratic National Convention held in July of this year.

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Projecting Nepal’s future constitutional stability

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A new constitution was agreed in Nepal this September, but will the document bring concord to the often unsettled nation? Arguing that constitutional stability is critical for long-term development, Daniel Goldstein examines Nepal’s mechanisms for constitutional change and projects the nation’s constitutional stability over the next 20 years.   

Despite the end of a ten year civil war and total rejection of the monarchy in late 2006, Nepal has remained a politically turbulent country.  Although an interim constitution passed in 2007, the process of agreeing a finalised constitution was delayed by political bickering.  Shortly after conclusion of the civil war, the one-time military foes of the government, the Maoist, entered the legislature as a political party.  Gaining significant support, the Maoist clashed with the traditional political parties over the constitution.  Though there have been several amendments to the interim constitution, most progress toward a new document occurred in the months preceding the September 2015 enactment of the new constitution.  The suddenly expedited process has been partially attributed to national solidarity following the April 25 2015 earthquake, which killed over 8,500 people.

Divisions along ethnic, language, and caste lines pervade Nepal, factors that substantially influenced passage of the new constitution, which creates a federal system dividing the country into seven states.  The Maoist campaigned strongly for the federal constitution which aimed to provide rights to discriminated minorities. However, concerns that the new constitution does not go far enough to protect the rights of minorities, as well as objections to the drawing of state borders, have led to continued upheaval since the September enactment.  Protests have been especially prevalent in the region of Terai, bordering India, where residents feel that the new constitution will allow for continued discrimination against those of mixed Indian and Nepalese backgrounds and against women.  The constitution grants Nepalese citizenship to children of Nepalese men who marry immigrants, but this privilege is not extended to Nepalese women unless their immigrant husband first becomes a Nepalese citizen. There is additional worry that the constitution was hurriedly sanctioned by the predominant political parties, which are led primarily by males of high castes, and that the present dissatisfaction with the constitution could lead to a renewal of violence.

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50 fewer MPs: Challenges for the constituency boundary review

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Work on the parliamentary constituency boundary review is set to begin next March. At a seminar jointly organised by The Constitution Unit and the House of Commons Library on October 27 Tony Bellringer, the Secretary to the Boundary Commission for England, outlined the boundary review process and Ron Johnston spoke about some of the challenges likely to be faced. Daniel Goldstein and Matthew Rice provide an overview.

As a result of the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act of 2011 a review of parliamentary constituency boundaries is now required to occur every five years.  After the first of these was abandoned in 2013, following an amendment to what became the Electoral Registration and Administration Act , the first official revised review is scheduled for completion in 2018. On October 27 the Secretary to the Boundary Commission for England, Tony Bellringer, and the foremost academic expert on constituency reviews, Professor Ron Johnston, came to Parliament to discuss the process and implications of the review at an event jointly organised by The Constitution Unit and the House of Commons Library’s Parliament and Constitution Centre.

Law and process

Tony Bellringer began by explaining how the constituency review process has changed since the 2011 law.  Prior to 2011, a review occurred every eight to 12 years.  While preserving constituency stability, this timetable permitted the size of the electorate in each constituency to vary significantly over time.  One advantage of that structure was that it allowed the Boundary Commission for England (BCE) to work over time across the country with a small, experienced staff.  Reviews are now regularly scheduled for every five years.  This better mitigates drift but carries the cost of more frequent constituency change.  Further, interim reviews are now prohibited, compressing work into the two-and-a-half years prior to a review deadline.  This presents budgeting as well as staff retention issues for the BCE.

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