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Primaries Start Process for 1996 Election Campaign

By Master Sgt. Stephen Barrett, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14, 1995 – Although Nov. 5, 1996, marks Election Day nationally, Americans in all states, territories and the District of Columbia will vote in primary elections beginning in February.

Besides being a presidential election year, 1996 is also an election year for many federal, state and local officials. Voters will select all 435 U.S. representatives, 33 U.S. senators, 11 governors and hundreds of other state, county and municipal officials. Many elections also involve primaries.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program office in Washington is prepared to answer questions and help voters get involved in the primary process. Phyllis Taylor, program director, said unit voting assistance officers can direct voters to agencies for information on candidates and issues.

The presidential primary process begins Feb. 20, when New Hampshire residents vote. Delaware holds its primary Feb. 24, followed Feb. 27 by primaries in Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota.

That fivemonth primary process culminates in June and July when the Republican and Democratic parties hold national conventions, formally announcing presidential and vice presidential candidates.

To participate in this selection process, Taylor said, the service member's first step is voter registration via federal post card application the sooner, the better. "Each state has its own set of voting rules," she said. "Voters need to get with their voting assistance officers early, find out what is required, when their primaries are held and ensure their applications are mailed in time."

Because of lengthy mailing times, Taylor said, voters overseas must ensure applications are accurate. "I can't express how important that first step is in mailing that application," she said. "If the application is incorrectly done, that alone could disenfranchise an individual because of the delay that could occur."

Although all states will conduct state primaries, eight (Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia and Wyoming) do not hold presidential primaries. Instead, state political parties select their presidential candidates through a convention commonly known as a caucus.

Under the caucus system, voters convene at local conventions and cast their votes. Local precincts then report those results to the state convention, where they select party candidates. Because voters must physically attend their local caucuses to cast their vote, most service members cannot participate in the caucus process.

Of the 43 states holding presidential primaries, 19 will also conduct state and local primaries the same day. The 22 other states and the District of Columbia will hold separate primaries for their congressional and local positions.

Voters needing more information should contact their unit voting assistance officer first. The voting assistance officer processes voting applications and refers voters to agencies that answer questions on candidates and issues. Voters may also call the Federal Voting Assistance Program's tollfree number, (800) 4388683, for voting information assistance.

(NOTE TO EDITORS: This article has a line art chart showing primaries.)

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