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How U.S. Soccer's presidential election works, and who votes

The United States Soccer Federation election is nothing like a U.S. national or local election. (Getty)

We are one day away from the 2018 U.S. Soccer presidential election. One day away from a vote months in the making. One day away from a collective decision that could shape the future of the sport in America. And not even insiders know how Saturday’s election will play out.

But that’s not the only mystery. Many fans don’t even know how a U.S. Soccer election works. This, after all, is the first contested U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election in two decades.

In fact, a few months ago, some candidates were even unclear on the intricacies of the election process. But on the eve of the vote, we more or less know everything we need to know. The two key questions are “who votes” and “how.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll begin by answering the latter.

The election process

Hundreds of delegates from all walks of American soccer life will gather at the Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld on Saturday morning for the National Council Meeting. More on the identity of those delegates later.

[More election coverage: 23 FAQs ahead of Saturday’s vote]

They will each have an electronic keypad. Their votes will be secret, meaning they are not beholden to any pre-election promises or expectations, nor vulnerable to political retribution. Additionally, there is no by proxy voting; every eligible delegate must be in Orlando to vote. (Some members of the Athletes’ Council, for example, will not be in attendance, and therefore will not vote.)

Before the first ballot begins, each candidate will have five minutes to address the room full of voters. The order of speeches will be chosen randomly.

The first round of voting will then begin. Voters may abstain. A candidate needs a majority – 50 percent plus one – of votes cast (so excluding abstentions) to win.

If no candidate receives a majority, the vote goes to a second ballot. Under rules currently in place, all eight candidates will remain on the ballot unless any choose to drop out. Low vote-getters presumably might withdraw.

[More election coverage: The path to first- or second-ballot victory]

However, there will be a National Council vote at the beginning of the meeting, before the election, on whether to adopt a rule that would knock the lowest vote-getter off the ballot after each round, beginning after round three. That change would need to be approved by a two-thirds majority. If it is approved, candidates who are removed from the ballot could still receive write-in votes, but would obviously have no realistic shot at winning.

In between rounds, there will be a 10-minute break, or “caucus,” for candidates and voting delegates to consult and negotiate with one another.

At the end of the 10 minutes, the next round of voting will begin. The process will continue until a candidate has won a majority. There is no limit on the number of rounds. Technically, the vote could go on infinitely if the aforementioned rule change isn’t made.

When a candidate does receive 50 percent plus one on a given ballot, he or she will be declared the winner, and will take office immediately at the end of the National Council Meeting.

The weighted vote

Now for the complicated part. We’ll start general, then dive in as far as necessary.

There are essentially five categories of voters. Their votes are weighted so that some have far more influence than others.

The 20-member Athletes’ Council, comprising players who have appeared for U.S. national teams at some point over the past 10 years, accounts for 20 percent of the vote. The three other councils – pro, youth and adult – get equal shares. Those shares will be roughly 25.8 percent each. The exact percentages depend on the fifth category, miscellaneous individuals – U.S. Soccer board members, past presidents, life members, delegates from other affiliated organizations, etc. – who get one vote apiece. They’ll account for roughly 2.6 percent of the total vote.

So, in more digestible terms:

  • Athletes’ Council: 20%
  • Pro Council: ~25.8%
  • Youth Council: ~25.8%
  • Adult Council: ~25.8%
  • Others: ~2.6%

Now, to break those numbers down further …

The Pro Council comprises just 16 delegates: nine from MLS, three from NWSL, three from USL and one from NASL. That means MLS – which is supporting Kathy Carter – controls roughly 14.5 percent of the entire vote, the largest share of any one entity. NWSL (supporting Carter) and USL (likely supporting Carter) control roughly 4.8 percent each. NASL, which supports Wynalda, has 1.6 percent of the total.

[More election coverage: Odds for all 8 candidates]

The strength of each athlete vote depends on how many show up in Orlando. If all 20 – full list here – were to register, each would hold 1 percent of the total vote. If 15 show, that number rises to 1.3 percent. If 10 show, it rises to 2 percent. The Athletes’ Council could choose to vote as a bloc and throw its unanimous support behind one candidate. It reportedly has not yet decided whether it will do so.

It’s in the youth and amateur divisions where things get complicated. Let’s begin in the youth. The vote is divvied up by youth soccer state association based on registration numbers. Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy has a nice breakdown here. For example, in 2017, the Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer Association had six delegates; the Maryland Youth Soccer Association had five; the Idaho Youth Soccer Association had three.

However, there are multiple youth soccer sanctioning organizations in the U.S. The aforementioned state associations fall under U.S. Youth Soccer. But US Club Soccer and the American Youth Soccer Organization also send delegates (36 each in 2017). Eight commissioners also vote. The total number of youth delegates could presumably surpass 300.

The adult vote is split similarly, with leagues like the National Premier Soccer League and the United Premier Soccer League holding votes. The total number of adult delegates should exceed 200.

The Adult, Youth, Pro and Athletes’ Councils are then assigned multipliers based on number of registered delegates. The Youth Council, with the most delegates, will get a multiplier of 1. The Adult and Pro Councils will be assigned whatever multiplier brings them to equal voting strength with the Youth Council, and the Athletes’ Council whatever multiplier brings it to 20 percent of the total. In 2016, for example, the adult multiplier was 1.52; the pro multiplier 20.79; the athlete multiplier 57 (only four of 20 athletes showed up).

So whereas MLS controls 14.5 percent of the total vote, a single delegate from a youth state association controls less than 0.1 percent of the total vote.

Finally, there are the miscellaneous voters, a list of which can be found at the bottom of the Soccer America article. They each get a multiplier of 1.

So why, you ask, don’t we have specific percentages and names of voters? Well first of all, that list is confidential. But it’s also not set in stone yet. Delegates can literally walk up to the Annual General Meeting as late as 5 p.m. on Friday and register. Until then, there’s no way to ascertain who will show up and who won’t. Which is why this process is so damn confusing. But hopefully this article lent some clarity to it.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.