A delegate is someone who attends or communicates the ideas of or acts on behalf of an organization at a meeting or conference between organizations, which may be at the same level or involved in a common field of work or interest.
For example, an organization may be national in scope and consist of many local member clubs. Such an organization may hold an annual meeting where each local club can send delegates, or representatives to vote on behalf of the club, to the national convention.
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.
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 4,051 pledged delegates.
Of the 4,765 total Democratic delegates, 714 are superdelegates, which are usually Democratic members of Congress, Governors, former Presidents, and other party leaders and elected officials. 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 in order to receive any 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.
The Republican Party utilizes a similar system with slightly different terminology, employing pledged and unpledged delegates. Of the total 2,472 Republican delegates, most are pledged delegates who, as with the Democratic Party, are elected at the state or local level. To become the Republican Party nominee, the candidate must win a simple majority of 1,237 of the 2,472 total delegates at the Republican National Convention.
The Republican Party, however, has established few unpledged delegates. The only people who get unpledged status are each state's three Republican National Committee members. This means that unpledged delegates are only 168 of the total number of delegates. However, unpledged delegates do not have the freedom to vote for whichever candidate they please. The RNC ruled in 2015 that the unpledged delegates must vote for the candidate that their state voted for; the unpledged RNC members will be bound in the same manner as the state’s at-large delegates, unless the state elects their delegates on the primary ballot, then all three RNC members will be allocated to the statewide winner.
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. However, beginning in 2012 many states now use proportional representation. While the Republican National Committee does not require a 15% minimum threshold, individual state parties may impart such a threshold.