California's Primary and Its New Changes and the "Super" and "Unbound" Delegates

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezFebruary 16, 2020

On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, voters in California and 15 other states will be voting for the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. It is known as “Super Tuesday,” and about 40% of all pledged delegates are up for grabs on this election day.

States have autonomy in deciding over their presidential primaries/caucuses; some of them have open primaries others have either closed or mixed primaries.  In open primaries, voters are allowed to vote in either party, but they can only vote in one.  In a closed primary, voters can only vote for the party in which they have registered. A mixed primary can be either semi-open or semi-closed, voters here are allowed to vote in either party, or they can change registration on election day.

As Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina voters cast their ballots; the results appear to indicate that the presidential primary on March 3 in California will be of paramount importance in determining who might be the democratic nominee. All the action is taking place on the Democratic party as they scrumble to elect a candidate with a real chance to beat Trump in November.  Democrats still do not have a robust leading candidate, this race, so far, looks like it will go on until the summer. In the first two states that have voted, Mayor Pete Buttigieg won in Iowa, and Bernie Sanders won in New Hampshire. Nevada and South Carolina are voting next.

Once all primaries and caucuses end, then the nominee is chosen at the Democratic Convention in the summer. Democrats will hold their convention this year in Milwaukee from July 13-16. Democratic candidates in the California primary will be fighting for  494 delegates, 415 of them are pledged delegates, meaning these delegates will be given to candidates based on how well they do on the day of the election. The March 3 presidential election here in California will be holding 54 primaries, one statewide election and 53 district level elections. Whoever wins the statewide elections will be awarded the 90 “at large” convention delegates.

In addition, there is also that 15% threshold that voters must pay attention to. If you vote for a candidate who will not meet this criterion, you will be wasting your vote.  If you vote for a candidate who fails to get 15% in your congressional district or statewide, your vote will not count.  The said candidate whom you voted for will not receive a single delegate.

On the Republican side, Trump and the other six not so serious challengers will be fighting for 172 delegates.

California has approximately 21 million registered voters and almost 6 million of them identify themselves as “NPP-no party preference,” formerly known as  “decline to state voters.” NPP voters are the second largest block of voters in California. The largest group is Democrats and Republican voters are in the third place.  Leaders in the Republican Party made the decision not to let these “no party preference-NPP” voters participate in their primary. The Democratic, Libertarian, and American Independent parties will allow these “no party preference” to cross over and cast ballots for their presidential candidates. Nonetheless, these NPP voters must request a ballot from these political parties.

If a voter has registered as “No Party Preference,” he/she might need to take an extra step to vote on March 3,  voter registration can be checked here.  In addition, anyone who wants to either update or register to vote can do it here.  If an NPP voter wants to vote for a democratic candidate on the day of the election, he/she will have to ask the poll worker for a presidential ballot at the polling place.  And, if he/she votes by mail, then he will have to return a postcard sent by the county registrar.

This confusion might create problems of biblical proportions as millions of NPP voters might not be able to cast ballots unless they fully understand these rules for crossover voting on March 3rd.  If Democrats do not address this problem, many voters might be unable to cast their votes.  It could inevitably affect the democratic outcome of the primary election in the state.  A candidate who is engaging new voters in this election might encounter challenges if these voters are unable to navigate these hurdles.  Democratic candidates should endeavor to educate potential supporters of these new rules in California.

Now, let’s look into the distribution of delegates between the two major political parties.  The GOP and the Democratic Party differ as to how they distribute their delegates.  Democratic candidates will obtain delegates based on the percent share, of the vote.  Yes, Democrats award delegates proportionately.   Republicans use the following approaches: Winner-Take-All, Proportional, and Winner-Take-Most.

Both Republicans and Democrats believe that in the presidential-nominating process, the party insiders or party leaders should play an important role in determining who should get the nomination.  After all, they want presidents to come from their party ranks. It is argued that letting just the voters decide the outcome of these primaries, it will lead to the nomination of incompetent and unable to govern people.

Both parties have “unbound delegates,” “automatic delegates,“ unpledged delegates,” and “superdelegates.” These are the party leaders in both political parties, members of Congress, Governors, former Presidents and many other elected officials.  In this year, there will be 4,750 democratic delegates, 3,979 of them are pledged and 771 are unpledged.

To win the Democratic nomination outright, a candidate will need 1,990 plus 1 or 1991 pledged delegates. This is the magical number to win the nomination on the first ballot. No “automatic” or “superdelegates” will get to vote if a candidate gets this number of pledged delegates. However, if this is not the case and no candidate got these 1,991 pledged delegates, then there will be a second ballot.  This is what is known as a contested convention.  It becomes chaotic from this point on, the “superdelegates” or “automatic” delegates will get to vote and the pledged candidates will have the freedom to vote for whomever they like if there is a need for a second ballot.

Superdelegates or unpledged delegates vote until conventions are held and don’t mirror how the voters voted in primaries or caucuses. They want to make sure that the nominee has the ability to attract centrist voters in the major election to win the presidency.  These superdelegates can tip the scale and they determine who wins if the popular vote is close.  Is it undemocratic? Yes, but those are the rules of the game.  Bernie Sanders’ candidacy is currently posing that problem to the Democratic superdelegates who are endeavoring to preserve its “established tack.”

So far, it looks like there will be a lengthy nomination process on the democratic side. No candidate has shown the ability to generate enthusiasm and excitement needed to beat Trump in November. Bernie Sanders is trying.

Thank you for reading.

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Photo Credit: Picture used was bought from Bigstock.

Sources consulted:
Hagen, Lisa. “How Democrats Choose Their Presidential Nominee – and Why It’ll Take Awhile.” US News 11 2020.
“Is California’s presidential primary a disaster waiting to happen?” Editorial. Los Angeles Times 20 Jan. 2020.
La Raja, Raymond and Jonathan Rauch. “Voters need help: How party insiders can make presidential primaries safer, fairer, and more democratic.” Brookings 31 Jan. 2020
LaTour, Amee. “Unbound Delegates Explained: Who They Are and Why They Matter.” GenNFKD.org 3 March 2016.
Levinson, Jessica and Paul Mitchell. “You could be disenfranchised in California’s presidential primary if you’ve registered nonpartisan.” Los Angeles Times 2 Jan. 2020.
Myers, John.  “Are you an independent voter? You can’t vote in the California GOP primary.” Los Angeles Times 24 Jan. 2020.
—. “Not so easy to win the state.” Los Angeles Times 24 Feb. 2020.
Smith, Ace.  “How Californians can make their Democratic votes count on Super Tuesday.”  Cal Matters 27 Feb. 2020.
The State of California.  Secretary of State. “New Report of California Voter Registration: Highest Percentage of Eligible Voters Registered in 67 Years.” Yubanet.com 6 Nov. 2019.

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