Can you explain the presidential nomination process? How does the delegate system work?

Both major political parties in the United States select their presidential candidates through a process of primary elections. However, voters do not directly select presidential nominees in these primaries. Instead, they choose delegates from their respective states who will attend a national party convention to nominate a presidential candidate for their party.

The most important features of the Democratic and Republican national convention delegate selection processes are summarized below:

Democratic Party Nomination Process

Convention Delegates

Total number of delegates: 4,339
Pledged: 3,537
Unpledged: 802

The allocation of delegates to the Democratic National Convention is determined as follows:

BASE DELEGATES Each stated (including the District of Columbia) is awarded a number of delegates to the national convention based on its share of the total Democratic popular vote and its share of the electoral vote in the three most recent presidential elections. 75% of these delegates are allocated as district delegates (chosen in each congressional district in a state) and the remaining 25% as at-large delegates (chosen state-wide). 3,075 total.

PLEDGED "PLEO" (Party Leaders and Elected Officials) DELEGATES The fifty states and the District of Columbia are awarded a number of delegates equal to 15% of their number of base delegates to be filled by party leaders and elected officials. Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa are also awarded PLEO Delegates. 462 total.

UNPLEDGED "PLEO" DELEGATES Primarily Democratic Members of Congress, Governors, and "distinguished party leaders." 802 total.

Republican Party Nomination Process

Convention Delegates

Total Number of Delegates: 2,066
Pledged: 1,907
Unpledged: 159

The allocation of delegates to the Republican National Convention is determined as follows:

BASE DELEGATES Each state selects six at-large delegates. American Samoa, Virgin Islands & Guam have four at-large delegates each; Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have fourteen at-large delegates.

DISTRICT DELEGATES Each state also selects three delegates for each member it has in the U.S. House of Representatives

BONUS DELEGATES Each state can earn additional delegates by meeting one or more of the following requirements: the state cast a majority of its votes for the Republican presidential candidate in the previous presidential election, the state elected Republicans to the U.S. House or Senate, selected a Republican Governor or state legislative majorities, and / or the state holds its presidential primary election after March 15th (this is to discourage states from holding early primaries).

Delegate Selection Process in the States

There are significant differences in the way national convention delegates are chosen from state to state. Many states even have different mechanisms for choosing Democratic and Republican delegates. Some states award delegates to candidates on a "winner-take-all" basis, meaning that the candidate with the most votes in a state is awarded all of that state's delegates. Other states award delegates in proportion to each candidate's share of the primary vote. Another important distinction is whether delegates are "pledged" or "unpledged" to vote for the same candidate the voters in his or her state or district supported in the primary. These rules also vary widely by state. Descriptions of the delegate selection process in each state are provided on each party's convention web site:

2004 Democratic Delegate Selection Process by State
2004 Republican Delegate Selection Process by State