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DELEGATE: Explainer

A diverse group of delegates

(CNN) -- An army of Democratic delegates will descend on Boston, Massachusetts, for the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and party officials say it is the most diverse group ever.

The delegates will number 4,353, plus 611 alternates. The party estimates that 39.1 percent of the delegates are minorities and 2,163 -- about 50 percent -- are women.

"Our delegates represent the inclusiveness of the Democratic Party and the diversity of America," said Alice Huffman, chairwoman of the Democratic National Convention Committee. "We look forward to gathering later this month in Boston to nominate a candidate who embraces this spirit of diversity."

The delegates represent all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Democrats who live abroad.

California has the largest delegation, with 502 delegates and alternates. Guam has the smallest, 12 delegates. Twenty-four delegates from 12 countries represent Democrats who live overseas.

Besides casting the votes that will officially make Sen. John Kerry the Democratic nominee, the delegates also will approve the party's platform.

The delegates are selected through a complicated process that varies by state. In most states, the process begins with the state's presidential primary or caucus and ends with the state party convention.

Each Democratic state party is allocated a number of delegates based on a formula that takes into account the state's electoral votes and the strength of support for Democratic presidential candidates in the past three general elections.

Delegates also are separated into pledged and unpledged categories, with the pledged district-level delegates comprising about half of a state's contingent to the national convention.

The remaining delegates are either pledged at-large delegates and party leaders and elected officials (PLEOs), or unpledged add-on delegates and PLEOs (also referred to as "superdelegates").

Generally, each state's district-level delegates select at-large delegates to the national convention, as well as some PLEOs.

In addition, every state has a set of wild cards, that is, unpledged delegates chosen to attend and vote at the national convention, but not obliged to support a particular candidate.

Unpledged delegates make up about 20 percent of all convention delegates (ranging from 12 percent in Ohio and Florida, to 35 percent in Delaware, to 59 percent in Washington, D.C.).

They typically include local members of the Democratic National Committee and elected officials (like Democratic governors and representatives), who automatically earn a vote on the convention floor. In addition, the state Democratic Committee (or existing delegates) chooses one or more "add-on" delegates a few months or weeks before the national convention.

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