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The delegate selection process
Initial count: The number of delegates, either estimated or officially released, immediately following each state’s vote.

Current count: Because not all pledged delegates are assigned immediately following the vote, the Current count will include changes to a candidate’s delegate count for each state.

• State and Date pages display the historical record of the Initial count.

• The Delegate Scorecard displays the Current count.

• Candidate pages display both Initial and Current counts.

(CNN) -- If you think federal income tax forms are complex, try understanding the presidential delegate selection process.

The precise manner in which the Democrats will choose their 2004 presidential nominee will be a logistical maze, with many twists and turns.

To better understand the primary and caucus results, it is helpful to first look ahead to the Democratic National Convention, set for July 26-29, 2004, in Boston, Massachusetts.

While elected officials, party leaders and dignitaries will converge on the Fleet Center, the real power rests with the convention delegates. A Democratic hopeful's many months pressing the flesh on the campaign trail aside, it is these delegates who actually choose the party's nominee.

The system operates much like the Electoral College, in which vote-mandated "Electors" ultimately select the U.S. president every four years. Each Democratic state party is allocated a number of delegates based on a complicated formula that takes into account the state's electoral votes and the strength of support for Democratic presidential candidates in the last three general elections.

Each individual convention delegate casts one vote for a Democratic candidate. The first candidate to receive a majority of the convention floor's votes (2,162 in 2004) becomes the nominee.

"Alternates" will also be on-hand for the convention, ostensibly to replace delegates who do not or cannot show up, as will thousands of Democratic officials, leaders and regular citizens, plus the usual horde of journalists.

Electing delegates, per district

So how can delegates get a spot in Boston? That's where the process gets tricky.

Like the general presidential election, the party primaries and caucuses do not constitute a direct election. In other words, people don't actually vote for a candidate, but they vote for a delegate allied with that candidate.

(Before the primary or caucus, each candidate on a state's ballot submits the names of local Democrats who would serve as their delegates at the national convention, if necessary.)

The actual vote determines the allegiance of "district-level delegates," based on vote tallies in each of the state's U.S. congressional districts. Per guidelines set by the national party, each state splits these delegates evenly, male and female.

In this regard, the Democrats' delegate-dividing formula is more intricate than Republicans.

While the GOP favors "winner-take-all" elections -- compelling all convention delegates tied to a state's vote to support a particular candidate -- Democratic primaries and caucuses are proportional. So multiple Democratic candidates can earn a share of a state and district's delegate pool, based on how they finished in each primary or caucus.

Pledged and unpledged

Even then, the proportionally allotted (or pledged) district-level delegates only make up roughly half of a state's contingent to the party's national convention.

The remaining delegates are comprised of pledged at-large delegates and party leaders and elected officials (PLEOs), and unpledged add-on delegates and PLEOs (also referred to as "superdelegates").

Generally, each state's district-level delegates will select at-large delegates to the party's national convention, as well as some PLEOs.

Both at-large picks and delegate-selected PLEOs must openly commit to one candidate before this vote, and their names are subject to the candidates' review. So, given the clear-cut allegiances of district-level delegates, the statewide vote roughly determines the allegiances, and thus the identities of pledged at-large and PLEO delegates.

But this process makes it difficult to simply correlate the statewide vote to delegate totals for each candidate. Voter tallies in each congressional district create races within the race, and how those shake out ultimately determines the at-large and pledged PLEO delegates.

And this doesn't cover all the states' delegates. Every state has a set of wild cards -- that is, unpledged delegates chosen to attend and vote at the national convention, but not obliged to support a particular candidate.

Unpledged delegates make up about 20 percent of all convention delegates (ranging from 12 percent in Ohio and Florida, to 35 percent in Delaware, to a whopping 59 percent in Washington, D.C.).

They typically include local members of the Democratic National Committee and elected officials (like Democratic governors and representatives), who automatically earn a vote on the convention floor. In addition, the state Democratic committee (or existing delegates) chooses one or more "add-on" delegates a few months or weeks before the national convention.

The unpledged delegates give state delegations flexibility on the national convention floor.

Further complicating the process, candidates may drop out of the race before the convention or even before all of the pledged at-large delegates are chosen. In those cases, the state party and the withdrawn candidate may have some influence on how those delegates vote on the convention ballot.

As a result, a candidate wraps up the nomination beforehand only if he or she garners the allegiance of a healthy majority of pledged delegates -- enough to outweigh a potential revolt by unpledged delegates.

The end result? No matter what happens at the coming weeks and months, the Democratic nominee's eventual, exact margin of victory will not -- in fact, it cannot be determined until late July. So stay tuned.

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