A lesson in politics

Lawton_For many of us it's been years since we sat in a classroom learning about politics and government. As a result, many of us don't remember how the system works. And with a presidential election quickly approaching, there's a lot of confusion. So we wanted to give you the nuts and bolts of politics and voting -- and how it all determines who will become the next president.

In a candidate's race to the White House, it all starts in January with you at the polls. You cast your vote in the presidential primaries, and that determines which state delegates will be chosen to represent your party. A process which started with our founding fathers. "Most of them felt that your ordinary citizen wasn't well educated enough, wasn't thoughtful enough, wasn't going to take the time to do the research to be knowledgeable about important issues," said Lance Janda, an Associate Professor at Cameron University. "And therefore, you had to give them enough power to influence the system, but you had to limit what they could do at the ballot box, because they were going to vote with their heart or their wallet, and not with their head."

So at the national conventions in the fall, those delegates support the candidate the party has chosen, which is the person who steps ahead in the popular vote. But don't forget the Democratic Party's super delegates. They're Democratic members of congress, governors, and party leaders. They're guaranteed a seat at the democratic national convention, and can vote how they please. But more often than not, they vote the way the state voted.

Also the Republican Party has its own equivalent to super delegates; they're called Unpledged RNC Members. "These nuts and bolts details have a dramatic impact on the way that candidates chose to spend their advertising money, where they choose to show up and make personal appearances, the kind of issues that they argue are important," Janda said. "And so you can argue one of the flaws in the system is that you make the candidates go and kiss up to delegates in each individual state."

After the vote at the conventions, one candidate from each party will step forward as the presidential nominee. Then it's back to the polls, where you cast your vote in the general election. But it doesn't end there, because the 538 Electoral College votes play a huge role.

So on Nov. 4, even though we're all voting in the national presidential election, there's really 51 individual elections going on at the same time. So the candidate who wins a certain state will take all of that state's electoral votes. The total of electoral votes will ultimately determine who wins the election. The system means a candidate can win the popular vote, but not win the election. "Now what the founders didn't see coming was that in the long run, the popular vote would help determine who was president," Janda said. "They thought it would always get thrown into the Electoral College.... Now we've since modified the system because we've become progressively more democratic over time, and most of us share a broad faith in the wisdom and the common sense of the ordinary person."

There's one more snag. If one nominee doesn't get the majority vote in the Electoral College -- that's 270 votes -- the House of Representatives will determine who will be president. Inauguration day for the winner is in January, exactly one year after the process begins.

So where are we in that process right now? The last primaries are in June. Then the next step for the candidates is the conventions. The Democratic national convention will be in Denver in August. The Republican national convention will follow in September in Minneapolis.