The USA electoral process is a complex one; caucuses and primaries, followed by national conventions, general elections, formation of the electoral college and the selection of the president. Each step of this process has a lot of subtleties, which vary widely from state to state.
Caucuses and Primaries: This is the initial step of the selection of president. This stage of choosing occurs within a political party, where the party picks the candidate to rally behind.
In the state “Primary”', the registered members of political parties cast votes to allocate delegates for the presidential nominees of their parties. In some of the states this is done through caucuses, where groups are formed behind various potential candidates and there is discussion and persuasion between various groups. Republican party allocates all the delegates directly through primary or caucus, however the Democratic party allocates some Super-Delegates over and above the directly elected ones. These selected or allocated delegates are sent to the national party convention to represent their nominees.
In the process occurring between the primaries and caucuses to the selection of the potential electors is decided entirely by the party. The democrats, after the 1968 democratic convention, made a formal mechanism to reduce power of party leaders over the selection process and ways to represent minorities in the electors. This, however, backfired for the party as the delegates selected by primaries voted according to candidates and not the party, which led to the 1972 democratic Presidential candidate to win in only one state. The rules were then reformed and the concept of Super-Delegates was introduced. The Republican party also followed a somewhat similar trajectory, but did not impose as many restrictions on the delegate selection process, and never took measures to include the minorities.
National Conventions: Each parties’ delegates then choose a final presidential nominee at a national party convention. The nominee picks another person, who would be the vice president in the case the nominee wins. Here, there can be pledged or unpledged delegates; pledged ones are bound to support the potential candidates they chose in the previous round, while the unbound, or superdelegates can support anyone they choose.
Electoral College: After each of the parties have selected their presidential candidate, the candidate campaigns across the country to gain favor from the general public. There are speeches, rallies, debates, and other outreach activities, in which the candidates promote themselves. Meanwhile, the parties select some respective potential electors in each state, which are the people who get the last vote in the selection of the president. Each party forms a slate of potential electors according to the state..
General Election:After this, the general election occurs, in which the public votes for a president. However, the public does not directly vote for the president; they vote for the slate of electors for that political party for that state.
After the general election, the Electors are appointed to the state in two ways.. Electors from all the states then form the electoral college, which is the body that votes for the president. The electors are not legally bound to vote for the party they are pledged to, but can be fined or disqualified if they defect. Throughout USA history, though, more than 99% of the electors have voted as pledged.
The electoral college presently has 538 electors and the candidate who wins 270 or more electoral votes, wins the Presidential election.