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KPBS Commentaries

Dancing with the Delegates

When you vote on Tsunami Tuesday, Feb. 5, you may think you are voting for Hillary, Barack, John, John, Mike, Mike, Rudy or Dennis.  But you’ll actually be voting for a delegate who could be your neighbor, your friend, or someone who just wants to get involved with a political party and one of the most exciting presidential races in the last 50 years.

The delegates are people who are sent to the national party conventions to cast  votes for specific candidates.  The end product is selection of their party’s nominee.  So your vote on Feb. 5 actually has to go through a filter of sorts, created by the Republican and Democratic National Committees, before it becomes the delegate’s vote.

Briefly, here’s the way it works for California Republicans who send a total of 173 delegates to the Republican National Convention.  This is the first year that Republicans have a winner- take-all system for each of the state’s 53 congressional districts.  Before, all delegates were awarded to the winner of the statewide vote.  Now, each congressional district gets three delegates and those delegates are awarded to the candidate getting the most votes within that district. So even a congressional district with relatively few Republicans (such as a Los Angeles urban area) gets the same number of delegates as a strongly Republican district (such as Rep. Darryl Issa’s North County neighborhoods).

Additionally, each candidate chooses 11 delegates to go to the convention to vote for that candidate if he wins the overall popular vote in the state.  Not finished yet.  Also at the convention are the Republican National Committeeman, the Republican National Committeewoman, and the State Party Chair. Those last three are considered unpledged delegates who are free to support any candidate at the convention.  Nationally, of the 2,380 delegates to the RNC, 463 or almost 20% are unpledged.  In effect, one in five votes cast at the RNC will not be determined by voters!

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