Vote 2016: How Delegates and Superdelegates Pick Presidential Nominees

Fundamental Financial empowers high-growth companies with innovative lending solutions, offering a helping hand to those with the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneur or not, the presidential election buzz likely has you thinking about how the next administration’s policies will affect your business. Although the election is still eight months away, the presidential race seems to dominate the news cycle. That got us thinking about exactly how the current primaries translate into presidential nominations. After taking a closer look, what we found is pretty fascinating.

You already know the candidates. Heck, you’re probably tired of hearing them stump. You probably also know that party delegates and superdelegates play big a role in picking each party’s nominee. But do you know the nitty-gritty details of how the nomination process works? We didn’t until we took a hard look. So we thought we’d pass along some highlights from a recent summary published by The New York Daily News, entitled, Delegates, superdelegates and their role in the presidential primary: An explainer.

“Aside from voters simply punching a ballot, there’s a bizarre puzzle in each party of delegates, pledged delegates, proportional allocations, arcane rules — and, not least of all, superdelegates,” the NY Daily News writes. “And the puzzle changes each year, with rules differing in each state.”

In short, the primary vote you cast helps your candidate earn delegates, and the delegates actually elect the nominee. It’s a messy process the NY Daily News aptly sums up with a famous Winston Churchill quote: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” Here are some highlights from the article:

How do delegates determine the nominee
Delegates in each state are awarded, sometimes proportionally and sometimes on a winner-take-all basis, to the victors in each state’s primary or caucuses. In the Republican Party, the first candidate to secure 1,237 delegates is declared the winner of the party’s nomination. In the Democratic Party, the winner is the first to reach 2,383 delegates, but that total includes something called “superdelegates.”

What’s a superdelegate?
Simply put, superdelegate is an invented word that refers to a group of current and former Democratic Party members and lawmakers that can pledge — and withdraw — their allegiance to a nominee based on nothing other than their own personal preference.

Who are they?
Democratic Party superdelegates include elected officials like members of the U.S. House and Senate, sitting Democratic governors and the Vice President, as well members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and “distinguished party leaders” that include former Democratic dignitaries like ex-Presidents, ex-Vice Presidents, ex-presidential nominees, ex-senators and ex-House leaders. This year, there are at least 20 distinguished party leaders, 21 governors, 46 senators, 193 House members, and 437 DNC members who are Democratic superdelegates. The other majority of Democratic delegates, known as “pledged” delegates, are typically elected state and local officials. In the Democratic Party, there are about 4,765 total delegates, approximately 712 of which are superdelegates.

How do things work in the GOP?
Republican delegates from each state are made up of the following:

  • At-large Delegates: each state has 10, plus an additional number based on past Republican electoral successes
  • Congressional District Delegates: each state gets three per congressional districT
  • Republican National Committee (RNC) Member Delegates: each state gets three — its RNC state chair, its RNC committeeman, and its RNC committeewoman

These delegates are all, for the most part, obligated to vote according to the candidate (or candidates) chosen in their states’ primaries or caucuses (either on a proportional or winner-take-all basis).

How do the party delegates finalize a nominee?
In the Democratic Party, pledged delegates are bound to the candidates their states’ have voted for. But superdelegates can choose whomever they want, and they don’t have to formally do so until the party’s July convention. They can commit to a specific candidate before then, but they can also change their mind at any time.

In the Republican Party, except for in a few states where rules differ, all delegates, for the most part, must support candidates who their states supported in their primaries or caucuses. However, once delegates arrive at the Republican National Convention, if they do not achieve a simple majority for one candidate on the first ballot, they are no longer bound and can support whomever they desire. This outcome is known as a brokered convention and is historically rare.

We hope this helps to demystify the super-confusing process we use to select the next leader of the free world. And just because the race for the White House grabs the headlines, the results of state and local races can have huge impacts on your business, too. So don’t forget about those down-ballot races. It’s an exciting time to be an American, so join us and get out there to vote!