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The Path to the Presidency: What’s a convention? What’s a delegate?

March 22, 2012

By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer

If you watch television news or keep up with the headlines online, it’s difficult to miss the presidential primary elections. Every day there’s an update: results from another debate, a campaign speech, one candidate dropping in the polls while another takes the lead. Presidential primaries are the elections and caucuses held in each state to choose delegates to party conventions. There is a lot to keep track of. In this series, we’ll explore the presidential primaries, from the roots of party politics to the process of nominating a candidate.

The 2012 Republican presidential nomination race has been close, with candidates taking turns in the lead . With his victory in the Illinois primary election this week, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has solidified his lead in delegates. But his rivals, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, aren’t ready to drop out. This has left analysts speculating that the nomination may go to “a brokered convention.”

What does that mean? What’s a brokered convention? What happens at a convention? Who’s a delegate?

Typically, once primary elections wrap up, political parties look ahead to their nominating conventions at the end of summer. These are large-scale gatherings – big parties for each party - where representatives known as delegates take up the baton from the primaries. This year, the Republican National Convention takes place during the last week of August in Tampa, Fla., while the Democratic National Convention takes place the first week of September in Charlotte, N.C. The delegates cast the votes that actually decide who will lead their party’s ticket, either Republican or Democrat.

That vote you cast in your local presidential primary or caucus? It didn’t just decide which candidate your party supports locally. It also decided which delegates will be sent to the national convention – since each candidate has delegates committed to him or her.

However, there are two kinds of delegates. Most delegates are pledged, meaning they agreed to cast their vote at the convention based on the results of the primary election in their state. Some states, such as New York, operate on a “winner-take-all” basis in which the candidate who gets the majority of votes in the primary receives all the state’s delegates.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, divide up their delegates to reflect the breakdown of the popular vote. Say, for example, your state had 100 delegates: Candidate A received 56 percent of the vote, candidate B received 44 percent. In that situation, candidate A would earn the votes of 56 of the delegates, while candidate B would earn the 44 others.

The other kind of delegate, unpledged, is sometimes referred to as a “superdelegate” by the Democratic Party (they are simply called “unpledged delegates” by the Republican Party). These are delegates who can vote for whomever they choose, rather than voting based on the outcome of their state’s primary. These unpledged delegates are often high-ranking members of their political parties – former members of Congress, former governors and former presidents – whose status earns them more say in the process.

So, once these different types of delegates have arrived at the convention, what happens?

Both parties set a “magic number” of delegates whose support a candidate must have in order to be declared the nominee. If a candidate collects more than half of the delegates before the end of the primary election season, that candidate is considered the winner. This is usually what happens – the party knows who its candidate is going to be beforehand, and the nomination process is just a formality.

But if a primary season wraps up and there’s no clear winner – which could possibly be the situation this year - the nomination “goes to convention.” This is what people are talking about when they say “brokered convention” - the votes at the convention actually do count, and the role of the unpledged delegates is more vital, since they’re essentially wild cards who could steer the nomination one way or another.

What do you think?

What do you think of the process of nominating a presidential candidate? Do you think the roles of party delegates and superdelegates are fair? Would you change them?
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Comments
3/28/2012
Benson AZ
Jess
Sorenson/ Benson
It means that the race is close and they are going to goal the way to the end to se who is really going to win. The convention is good forall of them to be able totale to allege thousands of people that are going to be there. The race is goingto be close all the way to the end

3/28/2012
Benson
Edythe
Mr.Sorensen
Convention is and agreement in international law and delegate is a person designated to act for or represent another or others.

3/23/2012
belleville ny
michelle
miss colby/ belleville henderson central school
there are many bad people in the world and there are many good people in the world sometimes it just not right on how people get rated because someone with a better and higher number of votes think they are better. but at the end they are not better people wish they never voted for them.

3/23/2012
Bellvielle, New York
Kellen
Mrs.Colby/Bellvielle Henderson
I believe that the nomination process of the president is long, stressful, and difficult. You have no idea if u can trust them to do the right thing or do what they say they will and if they will be able to help the country or make it worse. I also dont think a president should become a delecate or that the delegate, superdeleget is fair at all. everyone should have the choice to vote for who they want to and their parties should not decide who you vote for and who you dont vote for.

3/23/2012
Belleville, New York
Olivia
Miss Colby/ Belleville Henderson Central School
I think the process for nominating a presidental candidate is a very long process. I think the roles of party delegates and superdelegates are fair. If I had a choice, I would not change them.

3/23/2012
Belleville, NY
Seth
Miss. Colby Belleville Henderson
Nominating a presidential candidate in my opinion is very fair. The nominees get chosen by the delegates thus making this fair. The process to me seems very long and I'm sure stress builds up from this. Our nation is buiilt up from hard work and dedication, making the process of the nomination arduous and lengthy.

3/23/2012
Belleville Henderson NY
J.W.
Colby
I think the may concern of nominating a Presidential candidate should be unifying as a party and selecting the person who is best fit to take down our opponent. President Obama needs to be defeated in 2012, and having two or three candidates in the general election come November will cause divison. I believe that the delegates need to pick who they see who has the most potential and not the ones who recieve the most votes. However, the voter turnout should influence their decision to an extent.

3/23/2012
Belleville, New York
Amanda
Mrs. Colby
Voting in a Presidential election is a privilage. People don't see it that way sometimes though. I wouldn't nominate the president to be a delegate, because he can vote for himself and he has enough to do on his plate, like re run and run our country. I believe that everyone american citizen should have the right to run for office and I believe all that are educated should vote. Its a process that is lengthy but we want a good representative and leader in office.

3/23/2012
Belleville/New York
Taylor
Colby/Belleville Henderson
The process of nominating a presidential candidate seems like a long and stressful task. I don't believe that the roles of party delegates and superdelegates is fair. I do think that they should obviously have different roles but I think that everyone should be able to vote for whomever they choose, not just because they have a bigger and better title.

3/23/2012
Belleville NY
Shelby
Miss Colby Belleville Henderson
Would I nonimant a president a role for being a delegate? No, I don't think I would beause it's the presidents job to be the president of the United States. But maybe I would if they use to be president and wanted to become a delegate. Do I also think that the roles of the party delegates and superdelegates are fair? Yes I think they are some what fair and no i would not change them.

3/23/2012
Belleville/ New York
Andrew Folk-Passage
Ms. Colby/ Belleville Henderson Central School
I think that each state should be equal when dealing with the delgates. Each state should award what that canidate gained. I dont think each sate should vary. I feel that Pennsylvannia is the state that truely gives out what delagates each canidate earned. Unlike such actions in New york. I feel that way because each caniditate could be close and in new york that one canidiate wins by only a few but by winning gains every vote. In order tyo achieve maximum equality when deciding who is going to run our counrty, i belive that things should be a little more equal and united amongst the states.

3/23/2012
Belleville, NY
Kate
Colby/Belleville Henderson
I think that the process for nominating a presidential candidate is fair. I support the idea that some delegates should vote by the results of their state's primary in order to give all of the people a voice. I also agree with umpledged delegates forming their own opinions on who to vote for in case of a "brokered convention" to steer the nomination. Overall, I am in favor of the way voting takes place and how presidential candidates are selected.

3/23/2012
Belleville/ New York
Andrew Folk-Passage
Ms. Colby/ Belleville Henderson Central School
I think that each state should be equal when dealing with the delgates. Each state should award what that canidate gained. I dont think each sate should vary. I feel that Pennsylvannia is the state that truely gives out what delagates each canidate earned. Unlike such actions in New york. I feel that way because each caniditate could be close and in new york that one canidiate wins by only a few but by winning gains every vote. In order tyo achieve maximum equality when deciding who is going to run our counrty, i belive that things should be a little more equal and united amongst the states.

3/23/2012
Belleville NY
Adam
Miss Colby Belleville Henderson Central School
I think that the process for nominating a president is fair in that it is chosen by the delegates. I think the roles of the delegates and superdelegates are fair. I would not change them if i had the choice to. so far we are a successful nation and also a young nation, we havent had many problems yet so why change anything now.

3/23/2012
Belleville Ny
Dylan
Ms. Colby
a Convention is a gathering of politicians, and voters to rally and talk about changes that the politician hopes to gain votes in accomplishing.

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