Voting in Presidential Primaries and Caucuses

A student posed the following question that I thought I’d address:  Is there a federal constitutional right to vote in the presidential nominating contest?  I think that the answer is no. (Suppose a state decided not to have a presidential primary or caucus.  The party bosses could just meet in a room and allocate the delegate’s according to party rules.  Would that violate the Federal Constitution?)

First, there is no right to vote for President.  The Constitution clearly gives state legislatures that right, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that there is no individual right to vote here as there is for other offices.  If there is no general right to vote, why would there be one in a party primary or caucus?

Second, there is a long tradition of people not voting for presidential candidates within the two parties.  The Iowa/New Hampshire model of nominating presidents only really got started in 1976, thus I think it would be hard to say that voters have a right to participate in the process.

Now are there any examples of voting restrictions that are specific to a presidential nominating contest that are more likely to be upheld because there is no underlying right to vote?  I don’t think so, but I’m not certain.

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1 Response

  1. Joey says:

    The short answer to your last question is no. Just because there’s no right to have an election for a given office (say, dogcatcher, judge, etc) doesn’t affect what restrictions are or are not allowed, once the state decides there’s going to be an election for that office. Similarly, once there is a primary, all the same rules as usual kick in, even though there need not have been a primary in the first place.