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Delegates Determine Presidential Nominations

With many state primary elections and caucuses already held, the U.S. presidential race is focusing on the delegates to each party's nominating convention later this year. In this segment of "How America Elects," VOA's Jeffrey Young explains the complicated process that ultimately produces a November candidate "ticket."

The road to the White House winds through the states and their primary and caucus contests. But, to arrive at the Oval Office, candidates first have to win their party's presidential nomination. And, that decision is made by party delegates.

Primary election ballots have the names of presidential candidates. But when voters make their choice, they are actually voting for convention delegates who are bound to that candidate. The White House contender who has the most delegates at the convention wins the nomination.

When the Democratic National Convention convenes in Denver, Colorado on August 25th, a total of 4,049 delegates are expected. It will take 2,025 delegates -- exactly half, plus one -- to nominate the party's presidential contender for the November election.

The Republican Party expects 2,381 delegates at its national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. A candidate needs 1,191 delegate votes to become the Republicans' presidential nominee.

For both major parties, each state's delegation is made up of certain components. California's Democratic Party contingent is explained by Democratic National Committee official Stacie Paxton, "For example, in California there are 441 delegates at stake. And, 370 of those are pledged delegates, so they are committed to one candidate or the other. There is [are] another 71 delegates that are DNC [Democratic National Committee] members, [others in that group of 71] are Members of Congress. And, [while] they are not committed to a candidate [because of the primary and caucus process], they vote in the convention as well.

California Republicans will send 173 delegates to their convention, 159 are committed delegates, while the other 14 are California party and elected officials. These 14 additional delegates are not committed by voters to particular candidates.

The two parties have different ways of assigning committed delegates to their presidential candidates. The Democrats work on a proportional system -- candidates, if they reach a certain threshold, get that percentage of a state's delegates that they received in votes. Republicans, however, have some states that assign delegates proportionally, and in others, a winner-take-all system.

At the conventions, names of candidates are put to a floor vote.

Chairman, Maine Delegation, 1964 GOP Convention: "Mr. Chairman, the state of Maine casts 14 votes for Senator Margaret Chase Smith."

For both the Democratic and Republican parties, committed delegates are bound to their candidates for the first vote. If no candidate gets the 50 percent-plus-one delegate needed to win the nomination, more rounds of floor voting are held. Eventually, delegates can vote for candidates other than the ones they were bound to by the voters. But neither major party has gone past the first round of voting in decades.

All the attention is on the candidates. But the real work of putting them on the November ballot is in the hands of others. That is an important part of How America Elects.