If the drive for delegates to the political party conventions seems like a loud, confusing mess, it’s because there’s a LOT of different moving parts (which are themselves all moving at different paces!). How the major political parties select their presidential candidates is explained in this excellent article from BallotPedia:
The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee (the governing bodies for the two major parties) each have their own guidelines for their respective presidential nominating processes, but they also give their state affiliates some flexibility in determining how they will allocate and select national convention delegates. Likewise, different states have different rules for primaries.
If you and your students want to get into details, the rules for the party convention delegates for both parties are available online (Democratic Party here, Republican Party here). And the delegate counts are available at RealClearPolitics.
There is some misconception about the “constitutionality” of party delegates’ obligations. Political parties are NOT mentioned in the U.S. Constitution; each party is therefore free to develop its own rules and procedures. Furthermore, most of those rules have been known for a long time; they have not been sprung on unsuspecting activists out of the blue (and if they seem like they have, the prevailing attitude is: tough — if you don’t like it, get involved in the party and pay attention).
However, with that said, Peter Grier at The Christian Science Monitor makes an excellent point:
Conventions used to pick nominees. But there’s a reason there’s been hardly any convention drama since the modern nomination process began to take shape in the post-Watergate era. Almost every move has been a step towards greater transparency and democracy. The expansion of the primary system was meant to widen support, and thus party unity, for nominees.
Once you’ve finished figuring out the party conventions, it’s on to the general election. Having chosen candidates in the party conventions, the general election is about actually electing someone. But the vote for president and vice-president is not decided by popular vote — it’s decided by a uniquely American institution, the Electoral College. For help with figuring out the math of the Electoral College, check out “Does Your Vote Count? A Look into the Electoral College” at Parade (hat tip to Charlie R. Claywell for the link!).
Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at http://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/