Voters across the United States will soon cast ballots for their preferred presidential candidates. But those vote totals don’t determine who will be on the ballot for president in November 2024. Instead, the candidate who gathers a majority of delegates advances to the general election.
It’s complex and uniquely American. Here are the basics about the delegate selection process:
What is a delegate?
Delegates are people who represent their state or district at their party’s presidential nominating convention.
How many delegates are there?
Both the Democratic and Republican national conventions will feature thousands of delegates. Those delegates represent all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and several U.S. territories.
Democrats will have about 3,900 voting delegates for the first ballot at the convention in August. There will be more than 4,600 for later rounds of voting, if necessary. Republicans will have 2,429 delegates voting in July.
What kinds of delegates are there?
Delegates fall into two broad categories. Democrats call them pledged and unpledged. Republicans call them bound and unbound.
Pledged and bound delegates must vote for a specific presidential candidate at the convention. Their votes are based on the results of the primary or caucus in their state. Depending on state and party rules, some pledged and bound delegates become free to vote for any candidate in later voting rounds.
Unpledged and unbound delegates may support any presidential candidate regardless of the primary or caucus results in their state or local district. These people used to be called “superdelegates.”
Pledged and bound delegates can be further divided into at-large delegates and district delegates. At-large delegates represent the entire state. District delegates represent specific areas within the state, usually congressional districts.
How does a candidate “win” delegates?
Candidates win delegates based on their performances in elections, primaries, or caucuses. But Republicans and Democrats have different approaches to assigning delegates to candidates.
For Republicans, the most common delegate allocation methods are:
- Proportional: Candidates are awarded delegates in proportion to the share of the vote they receive.
- Winner-take-all: The candidate who receives the most votes in a primary or caucus wins every delegate.
- Hybrid: Some states use a mix of proportional and winner-take-all methods.
- Direct election of delegates: Voters elect delegates directly.
Democrats have a standardized rule. Candidates win delegates in proportion to their share of the vote.
When will the first delegates be assigned?
The Republican delegate selection process begins with the Iowa caucuses on January 15 and the New Hampshire primary on January 23.
According to party rules, the Democratic delegate selection process begins with the South Carolina primary on February 3. New Hampshire is holding a Democratic primary on January 23 in violation of the rules. The Democratic party leadership has not yet said whether that will affect the state’s delegates.
Most other Democratic and Republican contests will be between March and June.
No one says the U.S. voting process is simple. But it is open to all and decided upon by the people. Most Americans wouldn’t have it any other way!