When determining who is winning the primary election there is one thing to remember. It’s not the number of states that a candidate wins in order to determine who is winning. It’s the number of delegates. A candidate who loses two out of three states could still pick up more delegates than the winner of those two out of three states. Every state has a different number of delegates and every state awards those delegates differently. A few do a winner take all process but most do not and award them proportionally. Losing candidates of a state usually still pick up delegates. It’s not a race to 50 it’s a race for total number of delegates. If you count a candidate’s status by number of states won you may find that this candidate does not win the nomination even though he or she may have won more states.
In terms of a primary election, the concept of what a delegate is becomes very misleading. It is not simply a point as many think, but it’s an actual person that is delegated to cast a vote at the convention. In the general election the term is referred to as the electoral college but the concept is the same in primaries. While canidate supports usually track the number of delegates won, they seldom track the delegate selection process itself which comes after the state's primary election but before the national convention. With that said the number of delegates awarded is still complicated.
There is no simple answer how delegates work because not only do the rules differ from party to party but they also differ from state to state. You may or may not know that our U.S. Senators total 2 per state for a grand total of 100. Our U.S. House of Representatives however are based on population. Just as two states have a different number of house representatives they also have a different number of delegates. In order to understand the idea down to the number for each state you’d have to read pages and pages of rules that you probably don’t care to. The simple answer is population determines the number of delegates.
The democratic party’s rules are more complex than the Republican parties is but both are complicated. The Democratic party’s total number of delegates needed to win the nomination 4324 while the Republican party’s total number of delegates is 2286. To win the nomination a Decocrat needs 2383 while a Republican needs 1237. To confuse matters even more there are pledged delegates versus unpledged delegates and even something called super delegates. We’ll get to these details later.
Let’s use Florida as an example. Since population determines total number of delegates, we’ll get into how that determines the actual number. Florida has 27 Congressional districts and each district distributes a number of delegates again based on population. On the democratic side that number ranges from about 3 to 8 per district and that total comes to 140. So far that part isn’t too complicated to follow.
The confusion comes from what delegates are also added to those. Florida has been allocated an additional 28 PLEO (Party Leader and Elected Official) Democratic delegates as well as 46 At Large Democratic delegates This increases the number from 140 to 214. What determines the number of PLEO and At Large delegates is as confusing as anything else but it boils down to predetermined rules that vary state to state. It has as much to do with how an election worked out for the party last time as it does with population because as you can see only 140 of the 214 delegates had to do with population.
It’s the same idea on the Republican side. 3 delegates are allocated for each of the 27 congressional districts for a total of 81. 15 additional At Large Republican delegates are also allocated and similar to what is called PLEO on the Democratic side, 3 RNC Republican delegates are also awarded for a grand total of 99 Republican delegates.
Between all candidates all delegates have been awarded. Of the 214 Democratic delegates 141 were awarded to Clinton and the remaining 73 went to Sanders. All 99 of the Republican delegates were awarded to Trump because their side uses a winner take all system.
Of course Florida is only one of the states and you’d have to do this for all the other states if you wanted to understand the breakdown for those but it’s a similar concept, just different numbers.
The point is that although we know the number of delegates each candidate has been awarded the original point was that delegates need to be thought of as representatives who will cast a vote at the convention and not as a simple point system. The real voting is still to come. These delegates will cast their votes based upon rules of if they are pledged or unpledged but not all delegates awarded to a candidate will vote for their candidate. Pledged delegates are required to on the first round of voting but unpledged delegates are not. The first round of voting is a formality based on math we will already understand at that point. If the first round of voting gives a candidate the total number needed the process is over and fairly uncontroversial with the exception of unpledged delegates voting however they wish. On the Democratic side the number is 2383 and on the Republican side the number is 1237.
The real question is not how many delegates does a candidate have but who are the delegates and how will they vote? Unpledged delegates may vote however they wish and if it comes to a second round of voting the rules change yet again allowing even more delegates to vote however they wish and not necessarily for the candidate they were chosen to represent.
How and when these delegates are chosen is the part seldom discussed. It’s through an election process but a very quiet one that most persons are unfamiliar with and at very separate times since each state does theirs separately. It’s all decided in time for the convention but it’s a done deal by then regarding who the delegates are. Yet it’s these delegates and not the results of the primary elections that actually choose the candidate to nominate.