What Is the Difference Between a Delegate & an Elector?

Although each individual's vote counts, electors officially vote the president into office.

The United States is a federal republic, so citizens do not directly elect the president and vice president. Instead, delegates for each political party meet to vote on which people will become their party's candidates. After the presidential election is held in November, electors in the Electoral College, acting as representatives of the citizens, cast their votes for president.

1 Delegates

In the U.S. party system, delegates from each party choose their party’s presidential candidate at a party convention or caucus. Each political party holds a convention on the state level and then holds a national convention. In theory, delegates vote for the nominee that they feel best represents the wishes of their state, but in practice, they often vote based on other influences, desires and political expectations. At the end of each convention, lists of the delegates and their votes are made public.

2 How Are Delegates Chosen?

The rules for choosing delegates differ between the Republican and Democratic parties and for each state. In general they are chosen to represent their state at their party’s convention. Delegates must vote for one candidate, so they are chosen based on a desire to nominate a particular candidate as well as a loyalty to that candidate. Delegates are usually individuals active in local politics. In the Green Party, delegates are chosen by their state party or party-associated organization. In states with voter registration by political party, Green Party delegates must be registered as members of the Green Party. Likewise, in the Libertarian Party, delegates must be members of the party. Libertarian Party delegates are selected according to methods particular to each affiliate party.

3 Electors

The word “elector” appears in Article II of the U.S. Constitution and in the 12th Amendment. According to the U.S. Electoral College website, the founders of the U.S. based the idea of having electors on a system used by the Holy Roman Empire. Princes in Roman-controlled Germany voted for the German King/Emperor. The citizens of the Holy Roman Empire were not directly involved in the election, but were instead represented in the vote by their prince. The electors have a similar role in the U.S. Electoral College. They vote for the presidential and vice presidential candidate that voters in their state choose.

4 How Are Electors Chosen?

Electors are chosen differently depending on the state. In general, they are chosen because of their loyalty to their particular party. To be qualified to be an elector, an individual must comply with his state’s certification of electors on its Certificates of Ascertainment. However, members of Congress and employees of the federal government are prohibited from being electors.

5 Difference Between Delegates and Electors

The primary difference between a delegate and an elector is that delegates are individuals who represent their state in selecting a political party’s presidential and vice presidential nominees, while electors are individuals who cast their state’s electoral votes for president and vice president after the presidential election is held.

Corey Bieber has contributed to a variety of health and technology websites during a writing career spanning over seven years. He has published academically and presented nationally on health information technology topics. Bieber holds a master's degree in computer information systems from Northwestern University and a Master of Public Health from Boston University.