Conventions are a central element of America’s electoral system. They are where the Republican and Democratic parties officially decide upon who their candidate for president will be. Additionally, it is also a time for the parties to establish their respective platforms in the upcoming elections and to define why they believe that they are the best party qualified to lead the United States.
Historically speaking, the conventions have been important for the selection of candidates in a very practical sense. However, in the present day, the conventions serve mostly a symbolic purpose. The nominee for each party is usually decided by performance in the primary elections. The conventions are therefore a way of officially ratifying who will be the party’s nominee for president.
Much of the original framework of the conventions is still in place, with the practice centered heavily around the concepts of delegates. Delegates are individuals who are selected based on the primaries and are sent to the convention to cast their votes in accordance with the popular vote of their respective states. Generally, delegates are bound to their states’ popular vote by a gentlemen’s agreement, with delegates (then) able to cast their votes in favor of whichever candidate they believe is best in the event that the convention holds and second ballot.
In addition to the regular delegates, there are also what is known as superdelegates. Superdelegates exist only in the Democratic Party. They are not decided upon by the voters and are automatically seated by the party. They are usually important elected party officials such as elected officials and former presidents. They are not bound to vote for any particular candidate by popular vote and can in fact choose to vote for whomever they feel is the party’s best candidate to be president.
In order to win the nomination for either the Republican or Democratic Party, a candidate must have won 51 percent of the delegates. In the event that no candidate possesses 51 percent of the delegates on the first ballot of voting, a brokered convention is held. The concept of a brokered convention has enticed many establishment Republicans who see it as a means of preventing Donald Trump from becoming the party’s nominee. In a brokered convention, delegates are free from their aforementioned gentlemen’s agreement and can switch their votes to whomever they feel is the best candidate, regardless of how their individual states voted in their respective primaries. Under this system, it is theoretically possible for any candidate to win the party’s nomination as long as they can sway the necessary delegates to his or her cause.
The Republican convention will be held from July 18-21 in Cleveland, Ohio at the Quicken Loans Arena. The Democratic Convention will be held at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. from July 25-28.