The bruising primary war between Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney and rival Rick Santorum has resulted in something that hasn't happened in Illinois in two decades: Voters in the state's GOP primary today will play a key role in picking their party's nominee for president.
All of which means Republican primary voters had better pay attention today, for the voting could get tricky. That's because they will be asked to do two things: pick delegates pledged to a particular presidential candidate, and then pick the candidates themselves in a non-binding "beauty contest."
At stake are 54 delegates chosen across the state's 18 congressional districts. Voters in each district will choose between two and four delegates who are pledged to Romney, Santorum or four other candidates.
An additional 15 at-large, unbound at-large candidates will be elected at the Illinois Republican Convention June 8-9.
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These "super-delegates" consist of senior party officials and major office holders, and their role is to serve as a stabilizing influence to prevent the nomination of candidates considered too far outside the mainstream, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
All told, Illinois Republicans will have 69 delegates eligible to vote at the national GOP convention.
Unlike some states, Illinois is not a winner-take-all state when it comes to delegates.
"You have to go and find the delegates who are pledged to the candidate you want to support," said Redfield. "What counts is not the popular vote," Redfield said. "What counts is winning delegates in each congressional district."
The names of six current and past Republican presidential aspirants will appear on the ballot with no real bearing on the delegate count.
Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have qualified for a chance to win the full 54 delegates. The name of Santorum, because of organizational glitches, won't appear on ballots in four districts, so the most delegates he can count is 44.
The Republican National Convention will be Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla. All these delegates "are considered unbound by state law and the rules of the RNC," according to a March 11 state party memo on the primary, meaning that even if the candidates win delegates today, those delegates could change their mind at the national convention.
Here are some questions and answers about today's primary:
How many Republican delegates are at stake in today's primary election?
How many Illinois delegates in total will be voting at the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August?
What accounts for the difference?
The first 54 delegates will be chosen by voters in each of the state's 18 congressional districts. Another 15 at-large delegates will be chosen at the state party convention June 8-9.
How many delegates will be selected in each congressional district on today's primary?
No less than two and no more than four per district based on past election counts.
How will winning delegates be picked in each district?
They will be decided by a plurality of votes. For instance, in a district with four delegate slots, the four candidates receiving the most votes win. These candidates may all prefer one presidential candidate, or they could represent a mix of presidential candidates.
What about voting directly for presidential candidates?
The six presidential candidates listed on the ballot today will be competing in a head-to-head challenge. The results of this "beauty contest," however, will have no impact on delegate counts.
Will the 69 Illinois delegates chosen for the Republican National Convention be obligated to vote for any particular presidential candidate?
Technically, no. State law stipulates the delegates are free to vote for any presidential candidate of their choosing. In practice, however, most delegates remain aligned, at least on the first ballot, with the candidates they were chosen to represent in the March primary.
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