Rhode Island has hundreds of independent voters who did not decide their political party association until showing up at the polls on April 26, 2016. These unaffiliated voters made a big difference for all candidates vying for the presidency. In an unprecedented presidential race, where every delegate counts, the candidates all needed the delegates that the Rhode Island primary provides. Currently, none of the candidates in the presidential race have enough delegates to be certain of an uncontested party nominating convention.
There were five states voting in the primaries on Tuesday, April 26. The Rhode Island primary was the only one where independent voters could choose Democrat or Republican ballots at the polls. More than half of the registered voters who were expected to vote in the Rhode Island primary decided a political party affiliation when they voted. This process does not give the candidates any hints ahead of time as to what to expect from voters before their ballots are cast.
With only about 1 million residents, Rhode Island is closer to the size of a large city, rather than an entire state. There have only been a few times in the past where the Rhode Island primary played a significant role in the presidential race. Once in 1976, when Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford were pitted against one another and again in 2008, between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama. Generally, this late in the race, a winner would already be evident among the presidential hopefuls, and the Rhode Island primary would be more of a formality.
Independent voters are especially important in this year’s race, more so than in previous years. The theme among many voters has been the desire to step away from the business -as-usual politics that they believe to be an issue with both political parties. The number of independent voters in the Rhode Island primary had the potential to push unexpected candidates forward and keep the race going all the way to the conventions.
Many voters who consider themselves unaffiliated with a political party favor candidates who they consider outsiders in the political system. This idea had the potential to be a deciding factor in the Rhode Island primary.
There were 33 Democratic delegates and 19 up for grabs on the Republican side in the Rhode Island primary. The candidates need as many of those delegate votes to go in their favor to help build momentum for those who are lagging behind and create distance for those in the lead.
Clinton, a Democratic presidential candidate, was hoping to clinch a significant amount of delegates from the Rhode Island primary and widen her lead over her opponent Bernie Sanders. Her opponent, on the other hand, needed a significant number of delegates from the Rhode Island primary to help push his campaign along.
The Republican candidates had just as much at stake in the Rhode Island primary race as the Democrats. Donald Trump is in the lead but is not favored by the Republican Party. His opponents, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, had devised a public plan to try to stop Trump’s momentum by attempting to split the votes in the remaining primaries.
There were limited difficulties reported at the polls during the Rhode Island primary. While fewer poll locations were open than previous years, reports have stated residents have not had issues voting, although there were reports that out-of-state residents planned to slow voting lines in order to keep residents from voting. However, there was no confirmation that any voter interference took place.
By Gichele Cocrelle
Edited by Jeanette Smith
Patch.com: Rhode Island Primary oens with long lines
Boston Globe: Small Rhode Island suddenly has a big role in presidential primaries
WPRI.com: Why Rhode Island’s presidential primary matters
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