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Editorial: Into the primary labyrinth

Staff reports

Byzantine. Labyrinth. Horrible tangled mess.

That's the Pennsylvania presidential primary.

On April 26, Republican and Democratic voters in the 4th Congressional District will be able to vote for a presidential candidate from their party.

But the more important votes they cast will choose which delegates they send to the respective party conventions. Because those are the people who will actually cast their votes toward the nominees.

The mystery that is Pennsylvania's delegate system

Pennsylvania will send 71 delegates to the Republican National Convention, July 18-21 in Cleveland. Locally, Republicans will have 15 names to choose from, and they will pick three. Across the state, voters will pick 54 delegates, three from each of the Congressional districts. Three high-ranking GOP officials receive automatic bids, and the remaining 14 will be chosen at the state's summer convention.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump looks to supporters as he leaves a campaign stop Wednesday, March 30, 2016, in Appleton, Wis. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The state will send 210 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, which runs July 25-28 in Philadelphia. Voters will choose 127 delegates across the state.  Locally, 11 people are vying to be elected, and voters will choose three men and three women from the list. There are also 62 statewide delegates, composed of 42 at-large delegates and 20 party leaders. Plus, Pennsylvania has 21 superdelegates, who are current Democratic National Party members, members of Congress and Gov. Tom Wolf.

Got all that? Good, because now we're getting into the really heavy lifting.

Republicans voting in the 4th will see those 15 names and choose three. Those who are elected are supposed to vote for the presidential candidate who wins the district, at least in the first round of convention voting. But in actuality, those people could vote for any of the remaining candidates: Donald Trump, John Kasich or Ted Cruz. Some delegate candidates have announced who they plan to support at the convention, but most have not.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, shakes hands during a campaign event at Jackson Fairgrounds, on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Maquoketa, Iowa.

Then there are the 17 statewide delegates. They are pledged to vote for the candidate who carries the state on the first ballot, but after that, they are free to vote as they choose.

On the Democratic side, voters will see on the ballot which presidential candidate each of the 11 delegate candidates are pledged to support — in our district, five are pledged to Hillary Clinton, six to Bernie Sanders. Equal numbers of men and women will be sent to the convention, and delegates are also doled out proportionally according to the vote in the district. For example, if 66 percent of voters in this district vote for Sanders and 33 percent for Clinton, two men and two women supporting Sanders and one man and one woman supporting Clinton would go to the convention.

The 62 statewide delegates will be doled out proportionally as well, so if the state as a whole votes 50 percent for Clinton and 50 percent for Sanders, 15 men and 16 women supporting Clinton and 16 men and 15 women supporting Sanders would go to the convention, where they will vote for the candidate they're pledged to, at least in the first round.

And then there are the superdelegates, who are free to vote for anyone they want. Of Pennsylvania's 21 superdelegates, 17, including Wolf, have said they support Clinton, according to the Associated Press.

What it boils down to, for both parties, is that voters are electing people to do the electing for them. Your vote for a delegate is much more important than your vote for a candidate, and your previous votes, which elected superdelegates, are also very important.

And being Pennsylvania, our beloved state has made this as complicated as possible, so complicated that when Dispatch reporter Greg Gross wrote about it last week, he was interviewed by C-SPAN, who enlisted his help in figuring it all out.

Republican presidential candidate, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during a town hall event at the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in on Friday, April 1, 2016 in Hershey, Pa.

The whole system takes us back to the times when party bosses in smoke-filled rooms decided who each party would nominate as president. Surely we are past the point where the party has to set up an elaborate system to keep the real power in the hands of the elite. It's time to update the primary system to allow voters to actually cast a vote for someone they would like to see in the White House, not a person to go off and make that decision for them.

Now, about that electoral college ...