Ohio’s democratic delegate process unmasked

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Delegates, delegates, delegates…it could be one of the most used words in American right now – at least in politics. From what most people hear or read in the news delegates are what presidential hopefuls are trying to secure out of the primaries. Whichever candidate gets the most delegates wins his or her party’s nomination. WOSU explains who delegates are, where they are and how they’re awarded.

If you’re wondering how presidential hopefuls are awarded delegates, it’s rather simple, if you’re a GOP candidate. Winner-take-all – that’s how it’s done in the Republican Party. If Senator John McCain gets the most votes in the Ohio primary he wins all of the delegates. That’s the GOP system in every state. But the selection process is not as simple for Democratic candidates.

Ohio has 162 Democratic delegates. 92 of them, called district level delegates, will be up for grabs in the primary.

Each of Ohio’s 18 Congressional Districts is allotted delegates based on the Democratic performance in the previous presidential election. Every district has at least four delegates. But districts rich in Democrats, like the ones in northeast Ohio, have as many as eight delegates.

Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern explains.

“In Congressional District 11, which is represented in the Congress by Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, there are eight delegates at stake. Compare that to the Fifth Congressional District, now represented by a Republican, Bob Latta, in the Congress where there are four delegates at stake. The Fifth Congressional District has fewer democrats turn out in the General Election and the primary then does the Congressional District 11 up in Cleveland.”

That’s why Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been spending a lot more time in Northeast Ohio rather than Central and Southern Ohio. And political consultant Jerry Austin said it makes sense.

“We have an old expression in politics, that when you go duck hunting you go where the ducks are. And the ducks, in terms of delegates, are in, not just Northeast Ohio, but across the northern part of the state,” Austin said.

The 15th Congressional District, which includes Columbus, has four delegates. The adjacent 12th Congressional District, which includes northeast Franklin County and Delaware county, has five delegates.

So how do Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama secure these delegates? It’s based on a percentage of the vote. For example, let’s say the vote in the 15th Congressional District is split down the middle. That’s simple, each candidate gets two delegates. A candidate in that district would have to get 63 percent of the vote to secure three of the delegates, and 88 percent to secure all four.

The more delegates a district has, the higher the percentage of the vote required to win all of them. This is why most analysts say Hillary Clinton not only has to win Ohio, but must win Ohio by a sizable margin. Only a sizable win will allow Clinton to cut into the 100 delegate lead enjoyed by Barack Obama. And there is even the slight possibility that the winner of Ohio’s popular vote may not capture the most Ohio delegates.

That’s how the candidates get the delegates. What if you want to become a delegate?

In January, delegate hopefuls gathered in each of Ohio’s Congressional Districts. At that time there were eight candidates for the Democratic nomination. The delegate hopefuls picked their candidates and huddled with others who supported the same candidate. Each group votes on the person they want to be a delegate. Party rules require that half of the district level delegates be men and half be women.

The number of votes received by their presidential candidate in the primary determines how many of the delegates get to go to the national convention.

Now remember – this complicated process and complicated math applies only to Ohio’s Ohio’s 92 district level candidates. There are also 49 at-large delegates. The at-large delegates go to the Democrat who wins Ohio as a whole. And then there are the 21 super delegates – they are elected officials and party big wigs who get to pick whomever they want.

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