Voters in the presidential contests may not realize they are not directly voting for a candidate. The primaries and caucuses are a process of selecting delegates or representatives of party members in each state to send to their party's national presidential nominating convention held in the summer.
At both nominating conventions, delegates cast their vote for a particular candidate based on the preferences of the voters in the state they represent. Since the major parties typically identify a nominee prior to their respective conventions, this process is usually considered perfunctory. Currently, the Republican Party has about 2,472 delegates and Democrats have around 4,764 delegates.
Though the main purpose of the primaries for both parties is to choose a candidate for president, the method by which this candidate is nominated varies by party affiliation and state. Adding another layer of complexity, Republican and Democratic parties in each state select delegates based on either a primary vote or a caucus.