Politics

FAQ: Why California voters could matter in the GOP presidential race

FILE: Republican presidential candidates (left to right) Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016, in Detroit, Michigan.
FILE: Republican presidential candidates (left to right) Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich participate in a debate sponsored by Fox News at the Fox Theatre on March 3, 2016, in Detroit, Michigan.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Given the current delegate counts in the presidential race, California is looking more like it could be the defining state battleground for the GOP presidential nomination. 

This may mean that for the first time in decades, Californians' June 7 primary could be instrumental in determining who becomes the Republicans' presidential nominee.

It can be a complicated process, so we've broken it down for you:

Where do current delegate counts stand?

After Tuesday’s primaries in states like Florida and Ohio, presidential candidate Donald Trump has about 54 percent of the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the GOP nomination.

According to projections from The New York Times, California's primary could occur at around the time Donald Trump nears the 1,237 benchmark. The projections suggest that Trump would need to win a still undetermined number of California delegates to get over the threshold.

In other words, if candidates Ted Cruz and John Kasich remain in the running and Trump’s victories continue at the current pace, all eyes could be on California come June.

Have we seen anything like this before in California?

According to Larry Gerston, professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University, it's been 40 years since California has played this big of a role in the presidential primary. 

Gerston predicted this would happen back in early January. Now, he said, look for Republican candidates to start focusing on campaigning in California starting in early May.

"As we walk through the other states and as this impasse continues to grow the might of California’s delegation gets larger and larger," he said. "This is an extraordinary opportunity for California."

How does California's Republican Party allocate its delegates?

On the Republican side, California has 172 delegates up for grabs. That's a lot more than many other states — in fact, it's 14 percent of the numbers needed nationally to land the nomination.

In California, the Republican Party doles delegates out proportionally based mostly on who wins in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts. 

The winner of each congressional district gets three delegates and there are 53 total congressional districts in California. In addition, the candidate who wins the statewide vote gets an additional 13 delegates, according to Kaitlyn MacGregor, the state party's communications director.

If Trump wins in large numbers in California, he could be declared the party’s standard bearer and reach the magic number of 1,237 delegates. 

But more likely, Gerston said, Trump won't reach the needed number and the nomination will head for an open convention in July. That's because he'll split delegates with Cruz and Kasich in the remaining primaries.

What about the Democrats? 

If Hillary Clinton continues to grab the lion’s share of delegates, it's not likely the Democratic presidential race will be competitive come June. But that all depends on whether candidate Bernie Sanders unexpectedly surges in upcoming state primaries.

Sanders' campaign staff said this week they believe he can still make up the delegates and that they have the money to continue campaigning through the summer and the Democratic Party's convention. 

Can I vote for either party regardless of how I'm registered?

No. In California, if you're registered with a "No Party Preference" designation, you can only request a ballot for the Democratic Party, the American Independent Party and the Libertarian Party. If you're voting in person, you can request one of these ballots at your polling location. If you are voting by mail, you should contact your county elections office to request your selected ballot. The Los Angeles County clerk recently sent "No Party Preference" voters a mailing explaining their options.

If you want to vote in the Republican primary, you can only do so if you're registered as a Republican. The deadline to register to vote for the June primary or to switch your party affiliation in time for the June primary is May 23.