The latest election news ahead of the South Carolina primary

5:42 p.m. ET, February 23, 2024

What you need to know about presidential primaries ahead of South Carolina’s GOP contest

Voters cast their ballots during the first day of early voting at a polling station in Charleston, South Carolina, on February 12.

Allison Joyce/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Before Americans pick a president in November, they get to pick the candidates in a series of primaries and caucuses. It’s a wonky process that has evolved throughout the country’s history and continues to evolve today.

Here are key things to know before Saturday’s South Carolina Republican primary:

What is a primary? It’s an election to select candidates, usually for a particular political party, to appear on the general election ballot.

Who is running in the primaries? For Republicans, former President Donald Trump has long been the front-runner, but former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is still in the race. For Democrats, Joe Biden won the state primary earlier in February.

Who can vote in a presidential primary? It varies by state. For example, some states have open primaries — including South Carolina — meaning anyone can take part in the primary, even if they aren’t registered party members. Other states have closed primaries, meaning you have to join the party in order to vote. Primaries are generally conducted in polling places like any other election. That’s different from caucuses, which are more like neighborhood meetings. People show up and lobby for their candidates.

How is the nomination ultimately determined? Voters cast ballots for candidates, but they’re really selecting delegates for the party conventions, which take place over the summer. Delegates can either be apportioned through a winner-take-all system, meaning the top candidate in a state’s primary gets all of that state’s delegates, or they can be apportioned proportionally to the primary election results.
Get up to speed on the presidential primaries.

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