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Definition: Delegate


My mom's biggest goal in life is to serve as a delegate at the Republican National Convention. What does that mean exactly? A delegate is selected by the party to serve as the voters' representative, bringing the results of each state's primary balloting to the convention floor.

How many delegate votes does a candidate receive from the primary balloting? It depends on the party. The Democrats award a proportional amount — the percentage of votes a candidate receives in the state primary, they'll receive that ratio of delegate votes at the convention. The Republicans let each state decide whether to award a proportion of votes or let the winner of the primary election "take all." The first candidate to win a majority of the delegate votes secures the party's nomination. It gets better — please read more.

Here's where it gets interesting: A delegate, unless stated otherwise, isn't necessarily bound, or "pledged," to award his or her vote to the candidate the voters chose. Roughly 20 percent of a state's delegates remain unbound or "unpledged" allowing for flexibility during the convention vote.

Though it happens less frequently in our current primary season (which now starts early enough to create a front-runner effect where wins in early primary states snowball into continuing wins ) multiple convention votes could be required for one candidate to achieve a majority. In that instance, those unpledged delegates can choose to switch candidates, allowing for a majority win, and some exciting times on the convention floor. Here's hopin' my mom makes it there someday soon!

Want more to read?

Check out the history of multiple convention votes.

Want to learn more about how your state's Election Board runs things? Find your state here.

Hungry for more? Check this out for more details.

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