A delegate is a member of a group representing an organization (e.g., a government, a charity, an NGO, or a trade union) at a meeting or conference between organizations of the same level (e.g. trade talks or an environmental summit between governments; an arbitration over an industrial dispute; or a meeting of student unions from individual colleges at a national student union conference).
Delegates from the major political parties are involved in the selection of candidates for President of the United States by such assemblies as a convention. Some of the officials involved in the process are called superdelegates.
Delegate is the title of a person elected to the United States House of Representatives to serve the interests of an organized United States territory, at present only overseas or the District of Columbia, but historically in most cases in a portion of North America as precursor to one or more of the present states of the union. Delegates have powers similar to that of Representatives, including the right to vote in committee, but have no right to take part in the floor votes in which the full house actually decides whether the proposal is carried. See: Delegate (United States Congress).
A similar mandate is held in a few cases under the style Resident commissioner.
Pledged delegates are elected or chosen at the state or local level, with the understanding that they will support a particular candidate at the convention. Pledged delegates are however not actually bound to vote for that candidate, thus the candidates are allowed to periodically review the list of delegates and eliminate any of those they feel would not be supportive. Currently there are 3,253 pledged delegates.
Of the 4,047 total Democratic delegates, 794 are superdelegates, which are usually Democratic members of Congress, governors, former Presidents, and other party leaders. They are not required to indicate preference for a candidate.
The Democratic Party uses a proportional representation to determine how many delegates each candidate is awarded in each state. For example, a candidate who wins 40% of a state's vote in the primary election will win 40% of that state's delegates; however, a candidate must win at least 15% of the primary vote, or they win no delegates. If a candidate wins 14% of the primary election, they receive zero delegates. There is no process to win superdelegates, since they can vote for whomever they please. A candidate needs to win a simple majority of total delegates to earn the Democratic nomination.
A majority of the unpledged delegates are elected much like the pledged delegates, and are likely to be committed to a specific candidate. Many of the other unpledged delegates automatically claim the delegate status either by virtue of their position as a party chair or national party committee person. This group is known as unpledged RNC member delegates.
The process by which delegates are awarded to a candidate will vary from state to state. Many states use a winner-take-all system, where popular vote determines the winning candidate for that state, while a few other use a proportional representation. While the Republican National Committee does not require a 15% minimum threshold, individual state parties may however impart such a threshold.
The unpledged RNC member delegates are free to vote for any candidate and are not bound by the electoral votes of their state. The majority of the unpledged delegates (those who are elected or chosen) are technically free to vote for any candidate; however they are likely to be committed to one specifically.