The national political conventions – for both the Republican and Democratic parties – are the occasion where the respective parties nominate their candidate for each cycles’ Presidential election. At the convention, the parties’ Presidential nominee is determined by the majority votes cast be the collected convention delegates from across the nation.
Clearly the delegates to the conventions have a very important role. So how many come from each state, who are they, and what activities do they actually perform? The answers to these questions are very complicated – and vary between parties – but I will do my best to simplify it.
How Many Delegates Per State?
State Delegate Count
Every state sends its own delegates for the national parties to each convention. There is no simple formula for the number of delegates each state sends, but it will be dependent partially on the state’s population and partially on how much influence the party structure at the state level has with the national party.
Misbehaving States can Lose Delegates
Sometimes, if a state party makes a decision that antagonizes the national party organization, the state will have its delegate count at the national convention reduced – or even eliminated – as a punishment for stepping out of line. Both the DNC and RNC use this sanction as a tool to discourage states from holding their state primaries or caucuses too early in the presidential campaign season.
Who Are The State Delegates?
Delegate Selection Occurs at a State Level
Again, not an easy question to answer. When it comes to the organization of the political parties, a lot of these types of decisions are set by internal rules and regulations of the respective parties. Not only this, but a lot of the decisions are made at an individual state level, so the rules for who becomes the Texas delegates to the Democratic Party convention may be considerably different to the rules regarding who is selected as the Oregon delegates for the Republican Party convention.
The individuals chosen will be with those with support the parties grassroots all the way down to the level of the individual precinct chairmen, who usually vote indirectly on their selection at county conventions, or more directly at the state convention level.
Assignment of Candidates Supporters by the Democratic Party
For the Democrats, the delegates are usually chosen proportionally from party officials who are supporters of the various Democratic presidential candidates that were on the ballot in the states’ primary or caucus – where voters have their say on whom their preferred nominee is.
Rules for Republican Party Delegate Assignment
For the Republicans, the process is similar. However, while in some states the delegates are assigned proportionately according to the support the candidates receive in the primary/caucus voting, in other states there is a winner take all process.
This means that for those states one candidate may win the primary by only a few hundred votes yet picks up the states entire delegate pool for the national convention. To most people this seems rather odd – perhaps unfair – but the rules of the political system are full of strange quirks like this; just consider the Electoral College as another example.
The Mysterious Superdelegate
Apart from the delegates chosen to represent individual candidates based on primary results, both parties have a number of delegate slots reserved for important party officials. These delegates are informally referred to ‘superdelegates’ by outside observers, and are not pledge to any particular candidate prior to the national convention.
What Do The Delegates Do?
A National Convention Delegates Job on a Good Day
The answer to this question is that usually the delegates really do not do much. There will be a lot of discussion about the direction of the party, plenty of listening to speeches and of course plenty of cheering for the nominee. The reason for this is a variation of the old saw that ‘all politics is local’, most important decisions have already been made at the individual states conventions for the party prior to the national one.
It is already known which delegates are supporters of which candidates – and while the possibility exists for ‘faithless delegates’ to switch their vote, it is uncommon and would have to occur in significant numbers to make a difference in all but the tightest contents. Thus the delegates are largely there to go through the motions of selecting the preordained nominee, and keeping the national media’s focus on the candidate for a few days.
Brokered Conventions – When Every Delegate Counts
There is the occasional situation, however, when these delegates will find themselves busy with very important work. If no candidate has managed to ‘win’ enough delegates thru the various primaries and caucuses held across the nation prior to the national convention, a brokered convention will occur.
When the voting fails to secure a majority of the delegates for one candidate, delegates are released from their pledge to the initial candidate they supported. In this brokered convention scenario various negotiations proceed amongst those in attendance until finally one of the candidates is able to secure majority support, at which point the parties Presidential nominee is finally determined.