Understanding the American election process is not simple, but it’s what we’ve got to work with so lets break it down.
For 2016 we started with several candidates representing both parties and the occasional runner from a smaller-known party such as the Green or Tea Parties. These runners are competing against those in the same party to be the final presidential candidate. Making it to the end is not easy, is not cheap and is not always clear cut.
America's two main political parties -- Democratic and Republican -- choose their respective nominees through party-sponsored contests in each of the states and U.S. territories, a process that starts in February and takes up to five months.
Iowa and New Hampshire traditionally kick off the process early in the year, and then other states follow -- but before that, candidates have typically spent a year laying the groundwork for campaigns in those regions.
States have two ways of collecting their party members' votes when choosing a presidential candidate -- "primaries" and "caucuses."
A "primary" is what most people traditionally think of when they imagine voting -- people show up at a neighborhood polling place to vote for their candidate by ballot.
A "caucus" is very different. It's a neighborhood event that requires several hours of active communal participation and debate, and takes place in the evening in a home or public space, depending on the size of the caucus location.
Does the nominee with the most votes win? If only!
Instead of selecting a president based on how many votes they receive, the Founding Fathers established what's called the Electoral College. Each state gets the same number of electors as it has Congressmen and Senators -- and the bigger the state, the more electors it has.
In all but two states (Maine and Nebraska), it's a winner-take-all system -- so if you win 60% of the vote in California, you get all of that state's electors. For example, in 2012 Obama got 51% of the nationwide votes, which translated into 61% of the Electoral College votes.
In the end, whoever receives 270 Electoral College votes or more wins.
We usually know who the party nominees will be by late spring, but they are not officially chosen until the national party convention in the summer.
If you are one of the many Americans who skip the primaries and wait for the final opportunity to vote, you can watch the rollercoaster ride and make your decision based on the candidate you like the best.