Super Tuesday exposes flaws in primary system
Super Tuesday has evolved from a 1970s system geared to getting rid of the 'smoke-filled room' in which the shadowy party bosses of old would gather behind closed doors to decide who would run for the White House.
But the primary season that has since evolved is now the subject of its own controversy.
John F. Kennedy bothered to attend just seven primaries to win the 1960 Democratic nomination. Now candidates must slog across the nation for months, holding hundreds of meetings in a race that all comes to a head today.
It is convoluted, confused and more congested than ever before - and far less than fair, most analysts agree.
Today about 13 million voters are expected to turn out in 16 states, and American Samoa, to decide on their favoured candidates. The power of each state to set its own rules and standards has seen many pull dates forward in a bid to raise influence.
Some ballots - such as that in the important state of New York - are closed to all but registered party voters. Others - such as in the highly strategic California - are open but only the votes of party members count when it comes to choosing delegates.
Delegates are the officials who will attend the conventions of each party in August to confirm the nomination. The big states carry more delegates. The Democrats have 1,326 delegates at stake across the country on Super Tuesday, while George W. Bush and John McCain are competing for 613 - enough in both cases to effectively decide the argument.
The rules can prove surprisingly undemocratic. In California, the popular underdog Senator McCain may prove the most popular candidate in a ballot that includes people from both parties. Yet, as the darling of the Republican establishment, Mr Bush is expected to win the votes that count. And in California the winner takes all its 162 delegates. Senator McCain could spring an upset in New York, where polls suggest a close race.
'Anyone looking at the current system knows it has to change,' Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat sponsoring a reform bill, said. 'I hope that we can make that happen before the 2004 campaign begins.'