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Pennsylvania's delegate selection process is confounding

Voting in tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary election means experiencing firsthand the political parties' confounding system of choosing presidential candidates and their delegates.

Voting in tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary election means experiencing firsthand the political parties' confounding system of choosing presidential candidates and their delegates.

It's bewildering enough that the Philadelphia Law Department issued a memo last week explaining to election officials how it works. Even some election officials have difficulty with each party's arcane rules on delegate selection.

In the wild Democratic primary, regardless of what you see on the ballot, remember this: It is your vote for Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama that will determine the outcome. The popular vote decides how many pledged delegates each Democratic candidate sends to the Democratic National Convention in August.

If a candidate gets 60 percent of the vote in a congressional district, that candidate earns 60 percent of the pledged delegates in that district. There are 158 pledged delegates up for grabs across the state.

Sound simple? Then why are you asked to choose from a separate list of delegates farther down the ballot?

For Democrats, that vote is really a beauty contest between the delegates themselves. They are competing against one another to determine who gets picked first to represent their team at the party's Aug. 25 convention in Denver when it comes time to divide up the delegates.

It takes only 250 signatures and a $25 filing fee to get on the ballot as a delegate pledged to a specific candidate. Because the ballots are divided by congressional districts, the delegates must live in the district.

Clinton has Mayor Nutter, former Mayor John F. Street, and District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham running as delegates; State Sen. Vincent J. Hughes, State Rep. Mark B. Cohen, and State Rep. Tony Payton are among the would-be Obama delegates in Philadelphia.

To repeat: The delegate vote determines only which delegates go to the convention, not who wins the election.

You could decide not to vote for any delegates and it won't affect the outcome. Or you could vote for Clinton at the top of the ballot and an Obama delegate below.

For example, City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez is running as a Clinton delegate, but her husband and son said they will vote for Obama. They can still vote for Sánchez and help send her to Denver without hurting Obama's delegate count.

For Pennsylvania Democrats, pledged delegates are required to vote for their candidate on the first ballot at the national convention. On subsequent ballots, it's up to them.

Because anything can happen after that first ballot, last week Marian B. Tasco, majority leader on Philadelphia City Council, urged voters to pick delegates "they know and trust."

Another 29 so-called super delegates - generally party leaders and public officials - will go to the convention without having to commit to either candidate. The super delegates do not appear on the ballot.

Democrats also complicate matters by requiring an equal number of male and female delegates statewide. So voters are asked on the ballot to divide their choices between men and women.

Republicans do it differently. Though Sen. John McCain is the party's presumptive candidate, Pennsylvania's 74 Republican delegates - including 61 chosen by ballot, 10 by state committee, and three by virtue of their position - do not have to commit to a candidate. Unlike Democrats, the Republican delegates do not have "Committed to John McCain" or "Committed to Ron Paul" under their names. And no division of gender is required.

U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is running radio ads and will appear on the ballot, as will former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has pulled out of the race.

However bewildering the process, Deputy City Commissioner Fred Voigt said the primary ballot is actually simple.

Voters can save themselves and elections officials trouble by ascertaining their polling place in advance, Voigt said. He noted that synagogues, for instance, will not be used for voting this year because of Passover.

You can find your polling place by calling the Committee of Seventy hotline at 1-866-268-8603 or online at





And go early. "If you encounter a problem," Voigt said, "you've got the rest of the day to solve it."