How Primary Voting Can Help Foreign Aid


SEATTLE, Washington — The American elections are far from over, and they are far from ineffective. Not only does voting in state and federal primaries shape the policy that directly impacts American citizens but voting in primary elections also influences American foreign relations and foreign aid. Primary voting in elections is the mechanism by which voters can indicate their preference for a candidate in a federal, state or local election. Even if a voter’s selected candidate does not win the general election, many votes for a representative who supports foreign aid indicates that the winning candidate should devote time and resources to the same area.

Federal Primary Voting

Presidential primary voting supports foreign aid in two ways. Functionally, it can nominate a candidate to carry out specific foreign aid policy. It can also signal voter preference to put pressure on the winning nominee in favor of foreign aid. This pattern played out in the Democratic primary ahead of the Democratic National Convention. On Saturday, June 6, Joe Biden won enough delegates to become the Democratic nominee for president. This means that he won a majority of pledged delegates, or at least 1,991 out of 3,979 total delegates.

This does not mean that votes from the remaining Democratic presidential primaries did not count. Regarding foreign policy, they were as important as ever. Biden’s foreign aid plans include providing “debt relief for countries implementing green policies” and assistance for impoverished and vulnerable nations through the U.S. Agency for International Development. His closest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders, advocated for monetary aid to the “Northern Triangle” countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, as well as humanitarian aid to Venezuela.

While Sanders has withdrawn his bid for the presidency, voters could ensure that candidates hear their preferences by voting for the candidate whose policies they most support and thus increasing discussion of and coalition support for these topics at the Democratic National Convention in August. Additionally, the more than foreign aid is discussed in a highly public political setting, the more people learn about its importance and goals.

State Primary Voting

State primaries are often, but not always, held on the same day as presidential primaries. They are the method for nominating party candidates for state positions. In November 2020, 33 Senate seats will be up for reelection, and 35 seats in Congress will be contested. Both State Representatives and Senators vote on foreign aid and foreign policy bills. The Borgen Project meets with both of these groups to advocate for increased and responsibly allocated foreign aid spending. A significant number of states still look ahead to state primary elections before November, which means that voters can still select the candidate they will vote for in the general election.

Even though state representatives are not the face of foreign policy and aid in the United States, they hugely impact its implementation by way of voting and serving on committees. First, the House of Representatives then the Senate will vote on the International Affairs Budget, the COVID-19 Response, the Global Health Security Act and the End Tuberculosis Now Act. These initiatives are imperative for helping the world’s poor, so primary voting will directly nominate a candidate to vote on them. Again, even if a voter’s preferred candidate does not become a party nominee, the vote indicates support for foreign aid and puts pressure on elected officials.

Successes in Congress

Voting in state primaries is the tool that constituents use to build both a House of Representatives and a Senate that reflect their views. This means that any progress that has been made on behalf of foreign aid through Congress is a direct result of primary voting. Conversely, cuts in foreign aid are also a result of voting. In 2018, both the House and Senate passed the BUILD Act. This Act created the groundbreaking U.S. International Development Financing Corporation to help entrepreneurs in developing countries secure economic financing to help their communities. This act catalyzed economic growth in developing countries and was signed into law on October 3, 2018.

Also in the 115th Congress, Representative Edward Royce sponsored the African Growth and Opportunity Act and Millennium Challenge Act Modernization Act, or the AGOA and MCA Modernization Act, which became law on April 23, 2018. This act builds on the successes of its namesakes to help developing countries address issues in their transportation, energy, and communication networks. Furthermore, it specifically improves communications with sub-Saharan African countries by promoting trade partnerships.

These are just two of dozens of foreign aid successes produced by Congress, a body whose composition is dictated first by primary voting. What’s more, is that when the president signs bills like these into law, he or she has the power to do so as a result of the primary voting nomination. This is why primary voting counts.

Annie Iezzi
Photo: Flickr


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