Decoding the role of delegates

Did your vote in the Maryland primary matter? In short, yes

Did your vote in the Maryland primary matter? In short, yes

February 18, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It is one of the most confusing aspects of this year's presidential campaign.

On Feb. 12, Washington County voters cast ballots for presidential candidates, but also voted for delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions.

Many of those delegates were unknown to voters.

Some of them had a presidential candidate's name next to theirs, while others were labeled as "uncommitted."

So who are these delegates and what do they do?

Every four years, Democrats and Republicans hold national conventions where they pick their party's presidential nominee.

The delegates choose those nominees, casting ballots state by state until a presidential candidate garners enough votes to secure his or her party's nomination.

To earn the nomination, a candidate must win a simple majority of his or her party's delegates. For Democrats, that number is 2,025; for Republicans, it is 1,191.


Maryland will send 99 delegates to the Democratic National Convention and 37 delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Many delegates are what are called Party Leaders and Elected Officials, or PLEOs. They are essentially state and local officials and other party members.

What does it all mean to me?

So if delegates will be choosing the presidential candidates, did my vote on Tuesday matter?

In short, yes.

While the delegates will be casting votes that determine each party's presidential nominee, not all of them are free to vote for whomever they choose.

For example, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain won Maryland's primaries on Tuesday.

Some of Maryland's delegates will have to vote for one of those candidates at their respective conventions.

But here is where it gets fun.

Only some of Maryland's 99 Democratic Party delegate votes were determined during Tuesday's primary election.

How many?

"Well, there's two answers to that, I guess," said David Paulson, spokesman for the Maryland Democratic Party.

Paulson said 46 delegates were on the ballot across the state.

They must vote for the candidate they have publicly committed to. That candidate's name was next to theirs on the ballot.

But Paulson said a total of 70 delegates were actually selected Tuesday because of the Democrats' "proportional representation" system.

In addition to the 46 delegates who were chosen by voters, 24 will be divided among the candidates based on how those candidates fared in the primary, Paulson said.

Because Maryland's results are not yet official, it is unclear how many delegates each Democratic candidate will earn.

Paulson said candidates must earn at least 15 percent of the popular vote to receive any of those 24 delegates.

Those superdelegates

And there's more.

The Democratic party also has what are called superdelegates, who will go to the convention and can vote for whomever they choose.

Maryland has 29 unpledged, or super, delegates, most of whom are PLEOs, Paulson said.

While the superdelegates are not pledged to a particular candidate, many of their preferences are known, Paulson said.

For example, Gov. Martin O'Malley is a superdelegate. O'Malley has endorsed Hillary Clinton, so it is a fair bet that he will vote for her at the convention, at least on the first ballot.

If enough delegates are not secured during their first vote to determine a nominee, a second ballot is taken in which all delegates, pledged or unpledged, can vote as they please until a nomination is made, Paulson said.

"At that point, all bets are off," Paulson said.

And what about the Republicans?

Maryland's 37 Republican delegates all have to vote for McCain at the Republican convention because he won the state's primary, according to John Flynn, executive director of the Maryland Republican Party.

"Our process is a little simpler," Flynn said.

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