This November, it'll be pretty easy to figure out who won. The electoral votes in each state are apportioned by population, and the winner of the popular vote in each state wins all of those votes. (Except in Nebraska and Maine, and with the Bush/Gore 2000 caveat.)
But in the Democratic primary race, the math is much more complex. But as confusing as it might be, it serves to extend the campaign (which is good for our party) and it protects the party by ensuring that the most delegates are assigned where the most Democrats live and vote.
Here's how it works, in most states anyway.
For starters, the total number of pledged delegates in each state is based on two factors - the number of Electoral College votes and the Democratic vote for president in the last three presidential elections (1996, 2000, 2004.)
So, a strong Democratic state like New Jersey will get more pledged delegates - in proportion to population - than a weak Democratic state like Georgia. Those two states each have 15 electoral votes - but New Jersey gets 107 delegates while Georgia only gets 87.
Once the votes are cast today, the "delegate math" kicks in.
In most states, roughly 35% of the delegates will be allocated based on the proportional vote each candidate gets in the statewide balloting. And roughly 65% of the delegates will be awarded based on the proportional vote each candidate gets in each congressional district.
But not all congressional districts get the same number of delegates. They've all got the same number of people - but not the same number of Democrats. So, just like at the state-by-state level, the number of delegates is allocated by the Democratic performance in each district. (Exactly how varies quite bit - based on one of four approved formulas.) Every district gets between three and seven delegates.
And if that's not enough, here's where it gets really interesting.
For starters, you need at least 15% of the vote to get any delegates at all. Once the sub-15% folks are removed from the equation (sorry, Mike Gravel), here's how the math works:
* In a three-delegate district, if you get 50% plus one, you get two delegates. (Yes, that's a huge bonus for winning by a single vote.)
* In a four-delegate district, however, a 51-49% outcome leads to a 2-2 split among delegates. Even a 60-40 split is still 2-2. The winning candidate has to get to 62.5% to earn a 3-1 split.
* In a five-delegate district, unless the winning candidate gets over 70% of vote, it's going to be a 3-2 split.
* In a six-delegate district, it's going to be a 3-3 split, unless the winning candidate gets over 58.4%, then it's a 4-2 split. 75% of the vote earns a 5-1 split.
And so on...
For the campaign managers out there, consider what this means in terms of GOTV strategy. If you're fairly certain you're going to handily win a congressional district, you send your resources somewhere else. That is, unless you think you're in range of one of the supermajority tiers that earns you another delegate.
Even more to the point, given the 50/50 nature of the fight between Clinton and Obama, almost all the congressional districts with an even number of delegates will be split evenly. It'll take a big win of 56% (for 8), 59% (for 6), or 63% (for 4) to earn an advantage.
So, the GOTV campaigns are almost certainly happening entirely in the odd-number delegate districts. That's a weird artifact of the process, to be sure.
But all in all, unlike the Republican Party, with its largely winner-take-all system, the Democrats' process seems more democratic -- by ensuring that the most votes go to where the most Democrats are, it ensures that the overall outcome will largely reflect the will of Democratic voters... Even if it will take longer and involve some wacky math.
I found four sources useful in sorting through all this: The DNC's Delegate Selection Rules are tough sledding, but useful. Beyond that, recent articles by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Associated Press, and Time Magazine were very helpful.