What Is a Political Convention?

PHOTO: A woman walks in front of the stage inside of the Tampa Bay Times Forum in preparation for the Republican National Convention, Aug. 20, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

By definition, a convention is "a formal meeting of members, representatives or delegates, as of a political party, fraternal society, profession or industry," and that's what kicked off in Tampa, Fla., Monday and kicked into high gear Tuesday.

Republican delegates and representatives from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas and Puerto Rico have descended upon the Sunshine state for this meeting, the central purpose of which is to officially nominate the Republican Party's presidential and vice presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Conventions are a time-honored tradition that date to the 19th century, but they're not legally required by federal or state law, and there's nothing in the Constitution that says they're required to nominate a presidential candidate.

It turns out there are few official, overarching rules for conventions. Each party establishes its own rules for nominating its candidate. Every presidential election cycle, both parties put out an official call announcing the date and site. There's no specific, set date for this call. The Republican National Committee's bylaws for this cycle dictate only that "the Republican National Committee shall issue the call for the next national convention to nominate candidates for the president of the United States and vice president of the United States prior to Jan. 1 of the year in which the convention is to be held."

The convention serves three official purposes: First and foremost, to nominate a party's candidates for president and vice president. That nomination happens with a floor vote, wherein Romney and Ryan need to receive votes from 1,144 (one half plus one) of the 2,286 delegates attending the Tampa event. The number of delegates needed to win the nomination is based off of a formula- one half, plus one of the total delegates available need to be won by a single candidate during their primary season. The number of total delegates needed however, is not constant- that can change every cycle.

This election cycle, the primary season brought a little suspense when for a brief time it looked as if no single candidate would reach this mark. That would have meant a brokered convention, with multiple rounds of floor voting and potentially a lot of chaos. But Mitt Romney reached the 1,144 mark in May when he won the Texas primary. This years floor vote, which took place on Tuesday evening, was relatively straightforward. It lasted around 30 minutes, and New Jersey, coincidentally the home state of that night's keynote speaker Chris Christie, was the state that put Romney over the top.

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