Mar 5, 2008

Election question

As the Democratic Presidential nomination battle drags on, more people are paying attention. For two decades or more, the nomination was decided pretty quickly and people tuning in now don't understand the rules. Plus I live in Ireland and the US election system is by definition foreign to most of my friends here. So I'll try to answer questions as best I know them starting with:

According to the beeb, Hilary has 16 states and 1391 delegates. Barack has 24 states and 1477 delegates. So what counts more, the number of states or the total number of deleages? And what exactly is a delegate?
There's a convention in August to choose the Democratic presidential candidate. Each state[0] right now is coming up with the delegates they'll be sending to that convention - the number of delegates each state sends is in proportion to its population. Most of those delegates are elected - they're called pledged delegates. They are chosen based on which candidate they pledge to support. About 20% of delegates are super delegates. They are state party chairs, Democratic House and Senate members and other higher office holders. They're all elected; they've won their position through an election. But they are not elected to vote for a specific candidate at the convention. Each delegate - pledged and super - has a vote[1] and there are around ~4,000 delegates. So to win the nomination you need to get over ~2,000 delegate votes. All delegates are free agents once the convention starts. On the first vote pledged delegates usually vote who they're elected to vote for, but if a nominee isn't chosen on the first vote they can vote for whoever they want. So, your question: delegates matter; states do not. But delegate counts are all approximate right now. Not normally an issue, but in a close election it's a huge issue. For instance any accurate count of Obama's pledged delegate count should end in .5 - he won 5 Dems Abroad delegates last month. Many news organisations are opaque in their delegate counts - merging who they think super delegates will vote for with pledged delegate totals. And pledged delegate totals are not final either - the Iowa caucus which was the first step in this process finalises it's delegation to the convention on March 15th. Kevin [0] the 50 actual states; US territories like Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; Washington DC and lastly Democrats Abroad. [1] Not all delegates get a single vote. Democrats Abroad delegates get half a vote. I think we're it though. And the half vote isn't done to be mean - we only have 11 votes and it's a way to give more folks overseas a chance to participate.