Q: Which is the correct delegate count for Obama and Clinton?
A: There’s no official count. Different news organizations and Web sites come up with slightly different estimates because the job is complex and involves a bit of guesswork.
Watching the current Democrat race, I’ve noticed all Web sites have a different delegate count. They all vary within about 20 delegates on either side. How do I know which one is accurate, and is there an "official" delegate count?
There won’t be any "official" count until the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention, which opens Aug. 25 in Denver, Colo. But meanwhile at least six different news organizations and three independent Web sites are attempting to keep score. Each tries to estimate how many of the 3,253 "pledged" delegates have been won by each candidate in state primaries, state caucuses or state conventions, and also how many of the 795 so-called "superdelegates" have publicly endorsed a candidate. ("Superdelegates," as we said in a previous Ask FactCheck, automatically are entitled to be delegates because they are party leaders or elected officials.)
Keeping track of all the expected 4,048 total delegates is not an easy or simple process. Delegates are coming from 48 states (Michigan and Florida currently aren’t entitled to delegates under party rules, because they held their primaries earlier than permitted), plus Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands, not to mention a delegation representing Americans who live abroad. The states have different rules and laws about how delegates are chosen, and they are complicated. As USA Today‘s Kathy Kiely put it, "The mathematical formulas used to award delegates … could give a certified public accountant a migraine."
The delegate count isn’t always determined on a state’s election night. In states that choose delegates through primary elections, the totals awarded to each candidate are generally determined quickly. But in states that use the caucus system, the initial results generally are only the start of a multilayered process that takes days or weeks to complete. Most news organizations include projections of the expected outcome of caucus selections based on the initial results, but there is a bit of guesswork involved and the final results can be a bit different from the projections. The New York Times gives two counts of pledged delegates, one "hard" count of only delegates that have been officially selected, and a second, "soft" count that includes a projection based on caucus results.
Another complicating factor is that the total number of delegates keeps changing. The number of those entitled to be superdelegates has fluctuated between 798 and 793 since December as various public officials died or resigned and as vacancies were filled in special elections or by appointment. Sometimes, superdelegates change their minds, too. So it should be no surprise that the various news estimates don’t match precisely.
For reference, here are several news organizations and independent Web sites that offer delegate estimates:
Kiely, Kathy. "Count on confusion when counting Democratic delegates; When it comes to who won how many, your guess is as good as the media’s." USA Today, 7 April 2008.
Thee, Megan. "How The New York Times Counts Delegates." New York Times, updated 9 April 2008.