A senior Republican official told CNBC that delegates choose the presidential nominee, not voters.
"The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination. That's the conflict here," North Dakota GOP delegate Curly Haughland said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on March 16. Haughland went so far as to question why primaries and caucuses are held at all.
Despite GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's major primary victories so far, he may not get the 1,237 delegates he needs to claim the nomination before the GOP convention. If this is the case, it would lead to a brokered convention. In a brokered convention, Haughland and the 111 other unbound delegates -- delegates who are not required to cast support for any one candidate because their states don't hold primaries or caucuses -- would play a major role in choosing a nominee.
If more ballots are needed after delegates cast their initial ballots, they are free to vote any way they want, fellow North Dakota delegate Gary Emineth said.
"It could introduce Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney, or it could be the other candidates that have already been in the race and are now out of the race [such as] Mike Huckabee [or] Rick Santorum. All those people could eventually become candidates on the floor," Emineth said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would not rule out accepting the GOP nomination if a deadlock convention turned to him. If it were a divided convention, he said he would not accept a nomination.
"The rules haven't kept up," Haughland said. "The rules are still designed to have a political party choose its nominee at a convention. That's just the way it is. I can't help it. Don't hate me because I love the rules."
Some candidates are wise to the importance of delegates in the election process, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- who urged voters to cast ballots not just for him but for the delegates that support him.
"Tomorrow is all about delegates,” Cruz said in Illinois before the state's primary, The Washington Post reported. "Vote not just for me but also to vote for your delegates to vote for every delegate that’s a delegate for me."