Understanding the Delegate Selection Process


By Jon Smith, April 16, 2016

Let’s be clear.

The United States is a Republic of 50 states. It is not a direct democracy.

The dominant misconception today is that nominees for president are selected directly by the public in primaries and caucuses. It looks to many like a direct democracy.

Not noticed is the process by which nominees are actually selected. It is a complex political process conducted through political parties in all 50 states and the territories.

The misconception originates from a perception created when some of the 50 state political parties use primary elections, or caucuses in which voters (registered or declared partisans of a party) cast ballots for candidates binding party delegates to one or more candidates in the party’s nominating convention.

This perception is seemingly confirmed by the usual circumstance when one candidate receives a majority of party delegates bound and pledged to a particular candidate in primaries and caucuses. These delegates then proceed to the party nominating convention where the outcome is formalized and the nominated candidate then moves on to the general election.

Again, it looks like a direct democracy. But it’s not.

Each of the states has broad power to regulate the time, place, and manner of elections and may regulate the creation of political parties, dictate party processes, structure and monitor the methods political parties use to select their candidates, and may require or allow primary elections, caucuses or party conventions.

With 50 states and multiple political parties it gets really complicated because each party in each state (and territory) determines its own delegate selection process (rules).

So keep this in mind – in all states – nominees are always selected by party delegates. Only in a few states are the party delegates bound to one candidate by primary elections or caucuses. Usually one candidate has received the bound pledge of a majority of delegates early in the primary/caucus season.

At this point in a normal year the contest is over, the nominee has been determined, on we go to the national conventions, and then to the general election.

This year is different only because no Republican candidate has yet reached that magic majority of pledged party delegates required by both the Republican and Democrat parties.

Almost all of the controversy surrounding the 2016 presidential race arises from a widespread misunderstanding of the political process by the public.

Into this void leaps a host of demagogues, partisans, and media commentators exacerbating misconceptions, creating myths, and feeding on suspicions of misconduct and corruption.

Paid for and authorized by the Beaufort County Republican Party.

Not Authorized by any Candidate or Candidate's Committee.