The primary election season begins Monday with the Iowa caucuses and will continue until June. With most of the primary votes cast before April, the nominations should be clinched far ahead of the final polls.

Q: What's the difference between a primary and a caucus?

A: In a primary, voters make their choices at the polls, which are open all day. At a caucus, participants meet at specific times to discuss platform issues and indicate which candidates they prefer. Caucuses are usually a multitiered process, where the delegate field chosen by precincts, for example, is narrowed down at later county and state conventions.

Q: How many delegates can each state send to the national conventions?

A: Republicans allow each state six at-large delegates as well as three delegates for each congressional district. States get bonus delegates for how many Republicans they have voted into Congress, the governorship and state legislature as well as for their 1996 presidential vote. They also get a handful of extra delegates for holding their nominating event later in the primary season.

Democrats divide 3,000 pledged delegates among the states based on their voting population and how each state voted in the past three presidential elections. Seventy-five percent of these base delegates are divided among congressional districts and the remaining are at-large. An additional 15 percent of the base number is given for party leaders and elected officials.

Q: What are "super delegates"?

A: In addition to the pledged delegates, voted for in primaries and caucuses, the Democratic Party will reserve about 18 percent of the delegate slots at the convention for unpledged delegates known as "super delegates," who serve because of a prominent office they hold or have held. Among the super delegates are elected members of the Democratic National Committee, Democratic governors and members of Congress, and former party leaders.

Q: How are delegates divided among candidates?

A: Democrats divide their delegates in proportion to the vote the candidate received, with any candidate receiving at least 15 percent of the statewide or district vote qualifying for a share of the votes at that level.

Republicans have varying rules from state to state, but the process usually works in one of two ways: The candidate who wins the most votes statewide wins all the delegates; or the candidate who wins the most votes in a district gets the district's delegates and the candidate who gets the most votes statewide wins the at-large delegates.

The Schedule

Many states have nominating events for both parties on the same day. Those that don't are marked (D) for Democratic event and (R) for Republican event.

States have three basic options for voter participation:

(C) Closed: Only voters registered with a party can take part in their party's vote.

(O) Open: Any registered voter can participate.

(S) Semi-open: Those registered in a party or those registered independent may vote.

Date State Delegates (D)*/(R)

Jan. 24 Iowa caucus 47/25 S

Feb. 1 New Hampshire primary 22/17 S

Feb. 8 Delaware primary (R) /12 C

Feb. 19 South Carolina primary (R) /37 O

Feb. 22 Arizona primary (R) /30 C

Michigan primary (R) /58 O

Feb. 26 American Samoa caucus (R) / 4

Guam caucus (R) / 4

Virgin Islands caucus (R) / 4

Feb. 27 Puerto Rico primary (R) /14

Feb. 29 North Dakota caucus (R) /19 O

Virginia primary (R) /56 O

March 7 California primary 367/162 C

Connecticut primary 54/25C

Georgia primary 77/54O

Hawaii caucus (D) 22/ C

Idaho caucus (D) 18/ O

Maine primary 23/14 S

Maryland primary 68/31**

Massachusetts primary 93/37 S

Minnesota caucus (R) /34 O

Missouri primary 75/35 O

New York primary 243/101 C

North Dakota caucus (D) 14/ O

Ohio primary 146/69 O

Rhode Island primary 22/14 S

Vermont primary 15/12 O

Washington caucus 75/37 O

American Samoa caucus (D) 3/

March 9 South Carolina caucus (D) 43/ O

March 10 Colorado primary 51/40 S

Utah primary 24/29 S

Wyoming caucus (R) /22 C

Democrats abroad caucus (D) 7/

March 11 Arizona caucus (D) 47/ C

Michigan caucus (D) 129/ O

Minnesota caucus (D) 74/ O

March 12 Nevada caucus (D) 20/ C

March 14 Florida primary 161/80 C

Louisiana primary 61/29 C

Mississippi primary 37/33 O

Oklahoma primary 45/38 C

Tennessee primary 68/37 O

Texas primary 194/124 O

March 21 Illinois primary 161/74 O

March 25 Wyoming caucus (D) 13/ C

March 26 Puerto Rico primary (D) 51/

March 27 Delaware caucus (D) 15/ C

April 1 Virgin Islands caucus (D) 3/

April 4 Kansas primary 36/35 S

Pennsylvania primary 160/78 C

Wisconsin primary 77/37 O

April 15 Virginia caucus (D) 79/ O

April 22 Alaska caucus (D) 13/ S

May 2 D.C. primary 17/15 C

Indiana primary 72/55 O

North Carolina primary 86/62 S

May 6 Guam caucus (D) 3/

May 9 Nebraska primary 26/30 C

West Virginia primary 30/18**

May 16 Oregon primary 47/24 C

May 19 Alaska caucus (R) /23 S

Hawaii caucus (R) /14 C

May 23 Arkansas primary 37/24 O

Idaho primary (R) 28/ O

Kentucky primary 49/31 C

May 25 Nevada caucus (R) 17/ C

June 6 Alabama primary 54/44 O

Montana primary 17/23 O

New Jersey primary 105/54 S

New Mexico primary 26/21 C

South Dakota primary 15/22 C

*Does not include unpledged super delegates.

**Democrats: Closed; Republicans: Semi-open

SOURCES: Congressional Quarterly, Democratic National Committee, Republican National Committee, Federal Election Commission, state parties