By Steven Ehrenberg
In an election, candidates are elected.
It sounds simple, but it's not. Most states hold a presidential primary (or a caucus, which is similar to a primary) in the late winter and spring. Citizens head to the ballot booth to vote for their favorite candidate.
Once the primary ballots are counted, each state party picks out a delegation, or a group of people, to represent the state's preferences. For example, if most Texas Democrats vote for John Kerry, a smaller percentage votes for Richard Gephardt, and an even smaller percentage votes for Howard Dean, then most of the delegation will support Kerry, some will support Gephardt, and a few will cheer on Dean.
To win the nomination, a presidential candidate must be selected by a majority of all states' delegates.
Often, a presidential candidate will wrap up the nomination long before all states have held their primaries. Remember: All a candidate needs to win the nomination is a majority of delegates. If he or she wins a lot of delegates right away, the contest could be over early.
The big day for primaries is the first Tuesday in March, or Super Tuesday. On March 2 this year, voters in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington will vote in their primaries.
The following Tuesday, four Southern states will hold their primaries: Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. If the Democratic and Republican candidates haven't clinched the nomination before then, they probably will on that day.
Open and Closed Primaries
There are two kinds of primaries. In a closed primary, only party members can vote in their party's primary. In Pennsylvania, only voters registered as Republicans can vote in the state Republican primary. In California, only registered Democrats can vote in the state Democratic primary.
In an open primary, voters cast their ballot in one primary of their choosing. Indiana Republicans can, if they want, vote in the Indiana Democratic primary instead of the Republican primary. A member of Oregon's Green Party, or its Libertarian Party, or its Reform Party, or any one of six other parties, can vote in whichever primary he or she likes best.
Each state party sends its delegates to a national convention. This year, the Republicans will hold their convention in New York City, while the Democrats will hold their convention in Boston, Massachusetts. Delegates vote in one big room, confetti pours down on the winner, and balloons float up to the ceiling. Music blares, speeches are made, and one candidate goes back to the campaign trail hoping to becomeor remainthe President of the United States.