Say you're a number cruncher. Say you're a detail person. Say you are devoting close attention to the U.S. presidential race and want up-to-the minute totals of who's ahead in the count of delegates and by how much.
Good luck. Political enthusiasts better get their own calculator and a scorecard or two.
In the last week, we watched Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in Iowa, then she repaid the favor in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney took "silver" in Iowa behind Mike Huckabee and another second behind John McCain in New Hampshire. In between, he wowed 'em in Wyoming, taking eight of 12 available delegates during Republican county conventions.
So who's winning? Who has the most delegates? Shouldn't simple mathematics prevail?
Most total delegates won in Iowa + Wyoming + New Hampshire = Current delegate leader
So you might think.
Instead, the current delegate count published on Wednesday by the Associated Press shows delegate totals of 19 for Romney, compared to 31 for Huckabee. Meanwhile, CNN's online scorecard reports a nearly opposite tally: Romney, 30; Huckabee, 21.
Looking at totals for Democratic candidates is just as confounding. Clinton has one number on the CNN site and another number on the "scorecard" that's displayed on the Democratic National Committee's Web site. And AP reports yet another total altogether. Same for Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson.
"The delegate selection process is horribly complicated," said Matthew Burbank, chairman of the political science department at the University of Utah. "Even in a political parties class I wouldn't try to teach the details of this."
The delegate conundrum is much like the minutiae of the United States income tax system, he said. "It's far too detailed, and there's really no need to know it."
But shouldn't 2 + 2 = 4? Why all the variation among sources?
Even Burbank is surprised at the disparity but not totally.
"It's an approximation is what it really is," Burbank says of all the tallies. It makes sense in terms of what the national parties are trying to do essentially reward their friends and punish their enemies but it's not terribly clear in terms of trying to track this process, he said.
The number of delegates isn't even necessarily fixed.
Each year, the national political party can reward or spank individual states by handing out more or fewer delegates. Are you a state that elected a a Republican governor? Another GOP delegate for you. Add another congressional seat for the Democrats? You earn another Democratic delegate.
So the national political parties set the rules about how delegates are seated and how they will vote, but the elections happen in the states, which will often add their own individual nuances.
Although Democrats always have roughly 4,000 delegates and Republicans a little over half as many, the number of total delegates awarded can change. It's always a moving target. And a portion of delegates are always "unpledged," so those numbers may or may not be included when delegate tallies are posted.
Basically, Burbank and political experts say don't sweat it at least not until Feb. 5, when the big boys of California and New York and 22 other states, including Utah, weigh in on Super Tuesday."Sometimes that's the best way to look at it," Burbank said. "Just ride it out. It's probably going to change anyway."
E-mail: [email protected]