Primaries and caucuses are mechanisms used by political parties to choose candidates for public office. There are three forms of primaries, the direct primary, indirect primary and caucus. In direct primaries, party members vote for their preferred candidates, while in an indirect one, the ballots are for delegates who will in turn vote for their favored candidates. Unlike state-run primaries, caucuses are party-organized political forums which are usually held behind closed doors. Primaries and caucuses are typically held before each state or national level election.
The first ever direct primary was organized by the Crawford County Democratic Party in Meadville, Pennsylvania, on September 9, 1842. The practice was soon emulated by other political parties in several other states across the nation. However, the first legislation involving the primary process only emerged in 1896 in South Carolina.
The main push towards the implementation of a primary system came in the wake of the growing influence of an elite circle of king makers sitting at the top of the decision making hierarchies of major political parties in the country, often making decisions which do not reflect the prevailing sentiments on the ground.
Nonetheless, these primaries were held on an ad hoc and sporadic basis, and with no legal weight attached to their results, the process was frequently mired in controversies. However, the riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, attributed chiefly to the dissention within the party's ranks over the selection of a pro-war candidate, Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, as the presidential nominee by the party leadership, eventually led to the establishment of the McGovern-Fraser Commission to review the party's nomination process.
To prevent a similar recurrence, wide-scale reforms were implemented within the Democratic Party based on the recommendations of the Commission. A host of measures saw to the establishment of a transparent and representative nomination model. It eventually resulted in widespread changes to state election laws, which compelled similar changes to the nomination process of other political parties.
Four decades later, the political landscape of modern America has been transformed into a completely different animal. All fifty states, the District of Columbia, as well as the nine territories of the United States, now depend exclusively on primaries and caucuses to determine a party's election nominee.