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Sanders and Clinton debate in Milwaukee (copy)

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton answered questions from PBS journalists Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill at a Democratic presidential primary debate Feb. 11 on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus in Milwaukee.

Wisconsin's presidential primary election is Tuesday and Republican and Democratic candidates have been canvassing the state hoping to cull votes and grab delegates on the way to their party's respective conventions later this year.

News reports and commentators often refer to delegate breakdowns and math in analyzing a candidate's chances. Here's the deal:

What is a presidential primary and how does it work?

In a primary election, registered voters participate in choosing the candidate to be a party’s nominee by voting, as in the general election.

There are two kinds of primaries: open or closed. Wisconsin has an open primary, which means voters can vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary, regardless of if they are a member of either party. Voters are only allowed to vote in one primary.

Primary results matter because depending on which candidate wins, he or she will receive delegate votes that can help them when their party makes a final decision on a nominee at their convention.

Does Wisconsin’s primary matter nationally?

It depends on who you ask, and when, but most people now say yes. Wisconsin's open primary makes it more unpredictable along with this year's timing.

Wisconsin’s primary is two weeks after Ohio’s major primary and two weeks before New York's, then Pennsylvania's. Its timing may also boost its significance on the momentum and delegate count of the campaigns.

This year Wisconsin’s role in the primary process matters more because of a Republican field saturated with candidates early on, and a race that has tightened between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side, analysts say.

I’ve heard a lot about “delegates” lately, who are they again?

A delegate, broadly defined, is a person sent or authorized to represent others, an elected representative sent to a conference.

In primaries, delegates pick candidates and bring those votes to each party’s convention. Collecting delegates matters because to become a party’s nominee, a candidate needs to meet a certain threshold of delegate votes. Democrats require 2,383. Republicans require 1,237.

What kinds of delegates are there, how do they break down at each party's convention?

Each party deals with delegates differently. Here’s how it breaks down in Wisconsin:

In the Republican primary there are three kinds of delegates. Wisconsin has 42 delegates. Delegate selection is a “winner-take-all” system, both by district and statewide.

The breakdown: 42 total delegates: 24 from Wisconsin's eight Congressional Districts; 10 base at-large; five bonus; three party

1. Congressional District delegates: Delegates are selected by the party in the Congressional Districts they represent and must reside there. Each of the state's eight Congressional Districts is allocated three delegates.

2. At-large delegates: Delegates that are selected statewide. Each state gets 10 delegates and the RNC awards bonus delegates in states that meet certain criteria, including whether it has a Republican governor, Republican U.S. Senator and a Republican majority in the state Legislature.

3. Republican National Committee delegates: Each state’s three RNC members, including the state chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman are automatically national convention delegates.

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In the Democratic primary, there are four kinds of delegates. Wisconsin has 96 total delegates going to the convention; 86 of them are “pledged” which means they are tied to primary votes. Delegate selection is a proportional system, which means district level-delegates are apportioned among top vote getters by district while at-large delegates are apportioned among top vote getters statewide by percentage of vote received above a certain threshold.

The breakdown: 57 Congressional District delegates; 10 pledged Party Leaders and Elected Officials; 10 unpledged PLEOs or superdelegates; 19 at-large

1. Congressional District delegates: Wisconsin has a total of 52 district-level delegates and five alternates. Each Congressional District is allotted a percentage of those delegates based on the 2012 and 2014 Democratic performance in that district.

2. Pledged Party Leader and Election Official delegates: Delegates including large city mayors, state legislative leaders, state legislators and other local party leaders

3. Unpledged PLEOs: Delegates including members of the Democratic National Committee who legally reside in the state and all of Wisconsin’s Democratic Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. These delegates are probably better known as "superdelegates." Superdelegates aren't required to adhere to the results of the state's primary election, meaning they can vote for their candidate of choice, not necessarily the winner of the primary.

4. At-large delegates and alternates: Delegates elected by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Administrative Committee. People not chosen for delegate will then be considered candidates for at-large alternate positions unless they specify otherwise when filing.

According to the party's website: "In the selection of the at-large delegation, priority consideration will be given to African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian/Pacific Americans. Additionally, in order to continue the Democratic Party’s ongoing efforts to include groups historically under-represented in the Democratic Party’s affairs, priority consideration will also be given to other groups by virtue of age, sexual orientation/gender identity or disability."

What  do I need to vote in the primary?

You need an acceptable form of photo ID and if you are not yet registered in Wisconsin, or your current address does not match the address on your ID, you need to prove residency with a bank statement or a utility bill. 

Katelyn Ferral is The Cap Times' public affairs and investigative reporter. She joined the paper in 2015 and previously covered the energy industry for the Pittsburgh Tribune Review. She's also covered state politics and government in North Carolina.