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What are primaries and what should I know about them?

There are two main types of elections: primaries and generals.

Primary: Sort of like the “semi-finals,” a primary is an election that happens before the general. The goal of a primary election is to narrow the field of candidates that voters will have to choose from during the general election. Though the primary elections don’t determine the final result, they are one of the most important parts of an election.  The winners of the primary elections run against each other in the general election.

General: The election where the winner of the race is finally chosen.

Important to know about Wisconsin primaries:

In non-partisan primaries (where none of the candidates are affiliated with a political party), voters narrow the field down to the top two candidates, who will then face each other in the general election. Most local races, like city and county boards, are non-partisan.

In partisan primaries (where the candidates identify with a political party), voters decide who the one nominee of each party will be. President, US Senate and Congress, and State Senate and Assembly, and lots of other races are partisan.

Unlike general elections, in Wisconsin primaries you must select one party and vote only for candidates within that party for every partisan race on your ballot. Which party you choose to vote in is secret, but you can only choose one.

For example, you can vote for one of the Democratic candidates running for president (Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Martin O’Malley), or vote for one of the Republican candidates (Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, etc) – but not both. If there are other races on the ballot and you cast a vote for candidates in more than one party (for example, if you vote in the Democratic primary for the presidential race and also vote in the Republican primary for Congress), your ballot will be rejected. If you make a mistake and vote in multiple parties, ask a poll worker for a new ballot.

For more information about elections and voting, check out our 2016 Elections: Everything You Need to Know resource page!


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