The primary election is important, but the ultimate choice of which candidates will be nominated is in the hands of the Republican and Democratic party delegates.
The process for selecting the delegates is complicated and the parties have different systems. A candidate can win the popular vote in a state or Congressional district, but have to split the delegate vote 50-50.
Systems also vary by states.
In California, the Republican system is simpler: every congressional district has three delegates. The candidate who wins a district gets all three of them. The Democratic system is far more complicated, as you'll see below.
California Democratic Party
The 441 delegates (and their alternates) for the Democratic Party convention will be chosen in the coming months. The list of California delegates, according to the party Web site, will include 66 super delegates (members of Congress and other prominent California Democrats), 241 district delegates, 48 "pledged party leaders," and 81 at-large delegates.
Delegates representing the 53 California Congressional districts number between three and six per district, and will be divided evenly between men and women. Representative Anna Eshoo's 14th Congressional District will contribute six delegates to the national convention.
The delegates will be chosen in April. For more details, go to the California Democratic party Web site at http://www.cadem.org , scroll to the bottom of the home page, and click on the link under "Read This."
How votes count
Here is how votes count in the delegate-selection process, according Bob Mulholland, a campaign adviser for the California Democratic party.
In general, candidates split the delegates more or less evenly, but can get more if they garner a large enough majority of the votes.
To get any delegates at all, a candidate must get 15 percent of the votes in a district.
In districts with an odd number of delegates (three or five), they split the delegates in favor of the candidate with the most votes.
In districts with an even number of delegates, it's a little complicated.
In a six-delegate district such as Ms. Eshoo's, in a two-candidate race, the likely outcome is that each will get three delegates. To take away a delegate from the other candidate, the winner has to get more than 58.330 percent of the votes.
In a four-delegate district, a candidate has to exceed 62.500 percent to end up with three delegates.
Determining these percentages can take a while. First, all ballots must be counted and any candidate below 15 percent is eliminated. This produces a new total, from which the party recalculates the percentages and assigns delegates using the above formulas.
California Republican party spokesman Hector Barajas told the Almanac that his party will be sending 173 delegates to the national convention, 159 of whom are assigned by Congressional district.
Unlike the Democrats, all the delegates have already been chosen, he said.
Each district contributes three delegates, he said. The candidate who wins a district gets all three of them. Unlike the Democrats, delegates are not chosen with respect to gender -- or any other characteristics, Mr. Barajas said.
There are also 11 at-large delegates and three statewide unpledged delegates, and all are already chosen.