National convention delegates are those individuals authorized by the national and state parties to attend the parties’ national conventions and cast votes for the candidates running for the respective party’s nomination for President.
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Each national party apportions a specific number of delegate votes to the various states and territories, based on state population and complex calculations of party strength and support in recent elections.
Current unofficial 2008 delegate totals
Before squabbles between the national parties and some state parties over the scheduling of early primaries, the Democratic national convention in August 2008 was to include 4,416 Democratic delegate votes (and approximately 4,436 actual delegates, since some territories are allowed to split delegate votes into "half delegates"). A simple majority, or 2,209, was to be required for the nomination.
The Republican national convention in September 2008 was to include approximately 2,517 delegates. A simple majority, or 1,259, was to be required for the nomination.
But the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have reduced the delegations in the following states as a sanction for those states scheduling 1st tier events before the parties’ official "window": New Hampshire (GOP only); Michigan (Dem and GOP); Florida (Dem and GOP); South Carolina (GOP only) and Wyoming (GOP only).
The new official, "post-sanctions" delegate totals are 4049 for the Democrats (with 2025 needed to win) and 2380 for the Republicans (with 1191 needed to win).
Pledged delegates are "bound" to vote for a specific presidential preference at the national convention, for at least the first ballot. Usually they are "bound" by the results of the state’s presidential primary, or by the preferences of those attending their caucus/state convention system.
For both parties, about 81 percent of the delegates to the conventions will be pledged.
There are 2 basic types of pledged delegates; district level and At Large.
District level delegates are almost always associated with congressional districts (occasionally with state senate districts or with artificial "delegate districts"). At Large delegates are considered statewide delegates.
Democratic pledged delegates
For the Democrats, these 2 categories of delegates are always pledged; they are the defined as the state’s "base delegation" and are pledged by definition. The Democrats have a third type of pledged delegate; pledged party leaders and elected officials (PLEO) which is a separate group equal to 15% "Add on" to the "base delegation." PLEO delegates are typically big city mayors, legislative leaders, county party officials, etc. District, At Large and PLEO delegates together comprise the Democratic pledged delegation for a state. District level delegates are pledged or bound by the results of the primary or caucus in the particular districts, while At Large delegates are bound by statewide primary votes or state convention preferences.
Democratic pledged delegate allocation is standardized by the Democratic National Committee. District level delegates are allocated proportionally to Presidential candidates based on the presidential primary vote (or caucus/convention preferences) in that district. At Large and PLEO delegates are allocated proportionally to presidential candidates based on the Presidential primary vote (or caucus/convention preferences) statewide. In all cases, Democratic presidential candidates must receive 15% of the vote to qualify for delegate allocation in a jurisdiction.
Republican pledged delegates
For the Republicans, delegate types are more amorphous. Some state Republican parties treat all their pledged delegates as At Large (New Hampshire), some treat them all as district delegates (Rhode Island), and some use both district and At Large designations.
Republican delegate allocation of pledged delegates is not standardized. Some states award all their delegates "winner take all" to the presidential candidate with the most statewide presidential primary votes (New York and New Jersey). Others award 3 district delegates to the winner of the particular CD, and award the At large delegates to the statewide winner (Georgia and Oklahoma). Others directly elect delegate candidates on the presidential primary ballot, with the delegate candidate receiving the most votes going to the national convention, either pledged to specific presidential candidates (Illinois) or as unpledged delegates (Pennsylvania). Other states use some version of district or statewide proportional allocation, with specific rules varying significantly.
In some circumstances, pledged delegates are "released" from their pledge to support a specific candidate. For the Democrats, At Large and PLEO delegate spots awarded to candidate A are released if candidate A withdraws from the Presidential race before the delegates themselves are selected. If the delegates are selected, candidate A keeps those delegate votes in spite of his/her withdrawal. Democratic district delegates are not released; even if candidate A withdraws after winning district delegates in New Jersey, those delegates remain bound to candidate A for one ballot at the national convention.
For the Republicans, pledged delegates can be released from their pledge by the withdrawn candidate, depending on state party rules.
To track pledged delegates, the Associated Press determines each state party’s delegate allocation method, and programmatically applies that method to the vote on primary or caucus night as appropriate. These totals are then examined in Washington, D.C., and edited for consistency and completeness before being distributed to AP members and customers.
Unpledged delegates are by definition "free agents" who are unbound by any prior Presidential primary or caucus results in the states. Their votes at the national convention are completely at their own discretion.
The Democrats base the number of unpledged delegates which are apportioned to a state on 5 calculations: the number of state Democratic National Committee members; the number of Democratic Members of Congress; Democratic Governors; "distinguished Party leaders" (such as former Presidents or VP’s, former Senate leaders or House Speakers from the state, etc); and finally an "add-on" group of unpledged delegate spots based on the state’s DNC member votes. Because the first four categories of unpledged Democratic delegates are generally high profile elected officials, they are often called the “Super Delegates”. For the Democrats, these delegates are always free agents, able to vote for whomever they wish at the national convention.
The Republicans again are more decentralized and less standard in their usage of unpledged delegates. Some states consider all of their delegates to be unpledged (Pennsylvania), while other states designate their At large delegation as unpledged (Illinois). Others have no unpledged delegates; the entire delegation is considered pledged (Connecticut).
Unpledged delegates should not be confused with "Uncommitted" delegates. The latter are usually pledged delegates who are bound to vote "uncommitted" at the national convention because the Presidential preference "uncommitted" did well enough in the Presidential primary or convention to qualify for pledged delegates. In other words, "uncommitted" is much like a Presidential candidate who won pledged delegates.
To determine the non-binding preferences of unpledged delegates, the Associated Press calls and interviews them, and tracks their preferences.
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