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Florida primary: Why it's one of the last few winner-take-all states

States like to have a big prize to dangle before candidates during the nominating season, as is the case with the Florida primary. But the Republican Party has been pushing for a more proportional system for allocating convention delegates.

By Staff writer / January 31, 2012

Voters in the Florida Republican presidential primary are shown at a polling place in Sugar Sand Park in Boca Raton, Florida, Tuesday.

Joe Skipper/Reuters

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The prize for the winner of Tuesday's Florida primary is delegates, 50 of them. Florida is a winner-take-all primary state, so whoever gets the most votes will receive every last one of the Sunshine State’s votes for the GOP national convention in Tampa.

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But not every state’s primary is so simple. In fact, the Republican presidential race is now entering a period when you might need a degree in statistics to figure out what’s going on. 

Why is that? Delegate allocation rules, that’s why. Maybe you thought that in every state the candidate who gets the most votes in a primary wins that state’s delegates to the GOP convention. Not so fast, Newt Gingrich! It’s much more complicated than that. Candidates get a number equal to their proportion of the vote, divided by the statewide ratings of “Fox & Friends,” then multiplied by Mitt Romney’s tax rate. Unless Jupiter aligns with Mars, in which case Ron Paul gets everything if he can beat Rick Santorum in a 50-yard dash.

OK, that’s not how it goes. But the Republican Party has been pushing states to adopt a more proportional primary delegate system. States have resisted, because they like having a big prize to dangle in front of candidates. The result: a confusing patchwork of rules.

Here’s the real story, from data compiled by the Center for Voting and Democracy. Seven states and territories remain winner-take-all, in terms of delegates. These include Florida, New Jersey, and Puerto Rico.

Five states have winner-take-all statewide, plus a congressional district bonus. The overall winner gets a certain number of delegates, with the rest divvied up according to the winner in each congressional district. California and South Carolina follow this recipe.

Fifteen states, including Texas and Massachusetts, use proportional representation. If you get half the vote, you get half the delegates. Generally, you have to hit a threshold of 15 percent or so to get anything. Sorry about that, Buddy Roemer.

Seven states have a hybrid winner/proportional system. In Michigan, for instance, statewide delegates are allocated on a proportional basis, while congressional district delegates are allocated winner-take-all.

Six states, including New York, mete out delegates on a winner-take-all system if the winner gets more than 50 percent of the vote. If they get less, the divvying is proportional. 

The rest use miscellaneous approaches we won’t outline because we have only 400 words to explain it here. 

The bottom line: Winning isn’t everything. Even losers get some delegates, and that will make the already-confusing GOP race even more complex – and possibly longer.

Election 101: What's the Republican primary calendar for 2012? 

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