2016 Open Convention and Super Delegates

The marathon process of selecting a party nominee to square off in the general election has turned into a swift foot race to master the labyrinth process of the Republican and Democratic conventions. The primary voting process in each state is intended to allocate delegates to the candidate that either won the state or specific districts within the state. At the conclusion of the primary process in each party, the delegates convene at a national party convention to choose their party’s nominee.

This brings us to the next stage of the party nomination process. In the Republican Party, there are a total of 2472 delegates. To become the Republican Party nominee, the candidate must win a simple majority of the delegates – 1237. If none of the candidates are able to secure the 1237 delegates before they get to the party convention in July, it results in an ‘open convention’, which is also referred to as a contested or brokered convention.

On the first ballot at an open convention, each of the delegates is bound to support the candidate to whom they are ‘pledged,’ as determined in the primaries. If at the end of the first ballot, none of the candidates get to 1237 delegates, the convention moves to a second ballot. On the second ballot, many of the delegates are no longer ‘pledged’ to a candidate, and they are free to support any candidate. If none of the candidates get to 1237 delegates, then the convention moves to a third ballot, when even more delegates are free to support any candidate. And on it goes until there is a nominee.

This year’s open convention is a potential hotbed of chaos as the Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, has invoked the ire of the party, as well as the majority of the nation. As such, rumors have begun to spread that the convention this year might be dedicated to “overthrowing” Trump, and running a new candidate as the presidential nominee.

There are more arcane elements to the political process. In the Democratic Party, there are ‘superdelegates.’ These superdelegates typically include distinguished party leaders, and elected officials, including all Democratic members of the House and Senate and sitting Democratic governors. Democratic superdelegates are free to support any candidate for the nomination. This is in contrast with the ‘pledged’ delegates discussed above who are selected based on the party primaries in each state. Because the superdelegates are free to support anyone they want, they could potentially swing the results to nominate a presidential candidate who did not receive the majority of votes during the primaries. Within the Democratic primary, there are 4764 delegates and a candidate has to win 2383 delegates to become the nominee, of which there are 714 superdelegates. So, in a tight race, these superdelegates are likely to determine the party nominee.

How could it be that the Republican or Democratic Party ends up with a nominee who won fewer states and garnered fewer votes? And it must be that a majority of people feel the same way, based on a question that Jake Tapper from CNN posed on Feb 11, 2016, “What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?” And if these conventions do result in nominees that have are not viewed broadly as ‘fair winners’, hopefully peaceful and democratic protests are to follow.