A Lesson in Government: Delegates vs. The Popular Vote

Image: Overlay on American Flag

I’ll admit it, when I was in 8th grade civics and the Electoral College process was explained, I didn’t get it. More so, I thought the idea of the colleges were antiquated. Had we not, in our sophisticatedly designed democracy, figured out the voting system?  In skipping over the electoral colleges (after all, by the time I was of voting age, they would surely be dismantled), I also didn’t bother to understand the role of delegates in the primary race. They too seemed like an archaic notion.

This morning, while listening to N.P.R, I was reminded of my ignorance to the process.  The discussion on the radio centered on the fact that the republican primaries still had four candidates running, at least two of whom they consider viable contenders.

The question was asked; if no one drops out, and the country continues to be split, will any one candidate earn the delegates needed? And if not, then who wins and how?  I did not know the answer to these questions, so I decided to do some research.

Let’s start at the beginning, who, what, why, how and where:

Who are the delegates?

“Delegates are often party activists, local political leaders, or early supporters of a given candidate, says Anthony Corrado, government professor at Maine’s Colby College.”  To secure the nomination, a candidate needs 1,144 delegates. There are 2,286 delegates who vote at the convention.

What is a delegate?

“Delegates are individuals chosen to represent their states at their party conventions prior to a presidential election.”

Why do we have delegates?

“Delegates are supposed to take their cue from the voters who cast ballots during their states’ primaries and caucuses.” They are supposed to vote according to the popular vote, though this is not always the case.

How does the Republican Party pick delegates?

“The Republican Party rules for selecting delegates vary from state to state. Each state chooses ten ‘at-large’ delegates and three additional ‘district delegates’ for each Representative that state has in the House. Each state can also earn bonus delegates if a Republican candidate won that state in the last presidential election, or if the state elected Republicans to Congress, the governorship, or state legislative majorities.”

Where are the delegates voting?

At both national conventions, delegates cast their votes in favor of a presidential candidate to choose a nominee for each party.  This year’s Republican National Convention will be held during the week of August 27, 2012, in Tampa, Florida.

So that leaves us with the original question.

What happens if a candidate does not gain enough delegates before the Republican Convention?

“At both conventions, delegates must cast their vote in favor of one candidate. If no clear majority is reached, they must continue voting until they do.”  This means that delegates may need to change their vote, depending on which candidate other delegates are favoring.  This is why the anonymity of popular voting works in the favor of the people and not of those who have the power.

Why delegates are antiqued and why the popular vote should choose a primary candidate:

“During the primary process, ‘the party is choosing their candidates, which is very different from the public choosing a candidate,’ says Norman Ornstein, an expert on U.S. politics.”

Interestingly, the U.S. Constitution does not outline the process for selecting presidential nominees.  Therefore, the parties are able to define the rules they follow according to their needs.  This makes the process varied and often confusing.

It is time to get rid of this antiquated system.  Let the people decide who the elected officials are.  Until the government trusts its people, its people will never trust the government.

Where The Candidates Stand:


  1. I’m frequently aware of how many assumptions I have and how confused I am when listening to the rules and regulations for governmental action. Thanks for breaking some of it down!


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