The process of nominating candidates for the American presidential election begins Monday, January 15, with the Republican “caucus” in Iowa.

The primaries and caucuses allow the two main American parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, to designate, following a vote, the candidate who will run for the presidency of the United States. These elections, state by state, are being held until June, but Americans will probably know a few weeks before who the two candidates and their running mates will be who will face each other during the presidential election in November.

Until the Republican and Democratic conventions, scheduled for mid-July and mid-August respectively and during which the candidates will be nominated, all eyes will be on this long electoral operation, which meets very specific rules. Le Monde takes stock.

There are open primaries, closed primaries and semi-open primaries.

If they are closed: only voters who declare themselves members of the party can vote. Only Republicans can nominate the Republican candidate, the same for Democrats.

If they are open: voters choose the primary in which they vote, but they will then not be able to participate in the other party’s primaries.

If they are semi-open: in addition to party members, independent voters, that is to say those who have not declared their affiliation with one of the two main parties, can also vote.

The majority of the fifty American states choose to hold a primary and voters vote for their delegates by secret ballot. These same delegates are the ones who will nominate, during the convention, a candidate for the presidential election. The first primary is scheduled to take place on January 23 in New Hampshire.

Contrary to what its Latin sound might suggest, the word rather comes from the Algonquin (North American language) cau’-cau-as’u, “one who advises, who incites, who encourages”. Today, it is a sort of meeting at the end of which we designate the delegates. Fifteen states are organizing them: Iowa will officially open the festivities on January 15.

The caucus takes place in a school gymnasium, in a town hall or a public building. Once there, the participants – party members registered on the electoral lists – form groups according to the candidate they support. The undecided form a separate group and those who have already made their choice try to convince them to join their group. The group with the largest number of people ultimately benefits from the largest number of delegates.

These citizen assemblies elect constituency delegates, who elect county delegates, who will finally elect the delegates to the national convention.

This designation method can last several hours. It also requires travel, which often reduces the participation of the least committed voters.

A superdelegate is like a delegate, but better. He is not designated by the party’s voters, but automatically appointed due to his status as a party official or as an elected official or even a former elected official. Superdelegates are free to support any candidate.

Among Democrats, their votes can be decisive if a second round is necessary. This status is criticized across the Atlantic, its detractors accusing it of its undemocratic character.

The number of delegates in each state is set by each party, based on population. For Republicans, 2,469 delegates (2,365 designated delegates and 104 superdelegates) will gather at the party’s national convention Aug. 19-22 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Among the Democrats, the convention will bring together 4,532 (3,788 designated delegates and 744 super-delegates) from July 15 to 18 in Chicago, Illinois.

In both parties, for a candidate to be sure of being invested, more than half of the delegates must vote in his favor. So you need 1,235 votes on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, the process is more complicated. If several candidates remain in the running and none is guaranteed to win, only the designated delegates vote in the first round. The majority is therefore 1,895 votes. If a second round is necessary, which is even rarer, the superdelegates come into play. The majority is then 2,267 votes.

The number of delegates is not equal in all states and varies between parties. It is generally linked to the number of inhabitants. Furthermore, in some states, the vote is proportional, while in others, the “winner takes it all” rule is applied: the candidate who obtains the best score then wins all the state delegates.

The nomination process extends over several months, during which candidates assert themselves from ballot to ballot, while others will end up withdrawing, seeing their chances dwindle even before the final convention.

To avoid voting last, when most candidates have thrown in the towel in favor of the favorite, certain states have grouped together to organize their primaries at the same time. The day that brings the most people together is called Super Tuesday. This year it will take place on March 5th. This time, around fifteen states are concerned, including California and Texas, the two most populous in the country. A third of the delegates needed to win the nomination are at stake.

Most of the time, at the time of the national convention, only one candidate remains in the running, the others having given up following their failures. The convention is then only a simple formality, during which the presidential candidate is invested. The only suspense then lies in the choice of his running mate, who will run for the vice-presidency.