The Skeleton Scoop: Breaking down one story each week to the bare bones

Published: February 25, 2016

This week: Caucuses, primaries and delegates galore: What you need to know to understand the election.

By: Zachary Dyer

What’s going on:

The process that determines whose name will end up making it to the election ballot on Nov. 8 is as complicated as it is antiquated. Caucuses and primaries determine, in large part, for whom their state’s delegates will be voting. However, they are not the be-all-end-all, and this election season is just one more indicator of how, even when a candidate wins a state, they may not have, truly, “won” it.

‘tis the season. The season of primaries.

First we should talk about what the outcome of a caucus or a primary is, for it is similar in both situations. Each state has a certain number of delegates that are, in large part, supposed to be a representation of which candidates their state thinks should make it to the final ballot. After being “assigned” their candidate following the results of either a caucus or primary, delegates will be sent to their respective party’s national convention, and there they will cast their vote for whom their state believes their party should nominate in the general election. The way each state determines which candidate(s) their delegates will vote for varies depending on both the party and the state.

When voting in primaries, the democrats have a rather simple approach, simply asking their state the question “Who do you want to be your candidate?” The response to this question determines the delegate distribution for that state. For example, if 50 percent of votes were for candidate A, 40 percent of votes were for candidate B, and 10 percent were for candidate C, and if that state had 10 delegates, that would mean five delegates will represent candidate A at the Democratic National Convention (DNC), four would represent candidate B, and one would represent candidate C.

The Republicans have a slightly more detailed approach in their primary. They can either do it in a process like the Democrats, where the distribution of responses corresponds to the number of delegates that will represent a given candidate, or they can do a winner-take-all method, where the candidate with the greatest percentage of votes gets all the delegates from that state.

Caucuses are similar to primaries in that they determine the delegates that will get sent to the convention, but the way that these delegates are chosen is quite different. Caucuses predate the primary nominations and there are fewer of them than there are primaries. Many states choose to participate in a primary (as opposed to a caucus) because they feel as if the streamlined results and the simple voting methods give a clearer view of who their state wants to send to the primary. Caucuses can take place over five months, as with the Iowa Caucus.

In the first stage of a caucus, groups of 50 to 100 people come together in their precinct and attempt to “market” for their candidates and gather support. Precinct caucuses may have a threshold that determines when a candidate is able to be represented (e.g., 15 percent or more must be supporting candidate A for people to continue marketing for that candidate). After a precinct determines what candidates will “move forward,” precinct delegates go forward to represent that precinct in a county convention, which likewise selects delegates to go forward and represent the county in district elections, and then state conventions, and finally to the national convention.

Why should we care about Iowa and New Hampshire? Why are they more special?

You have no doubt heard in past weeks about the New Hampshire Primary and the Iowa Caucus, as they are the most famous. The reason behind their reputation lies not in the number of delegates they have, but in their timing relative to the rest of the election cycle. Due to the fact that these occur so early in the primary season, coming out ahead in these elections can often times help establish a lead, and candidates will have a much easier time raising money.

Okay, that’s simple enough. What’s the catch?

The catch lies in superdelegates. Superdelegates are those Democratic delegates that are not bound by their state’s decision regarding who should get on the ballot – they get to choose whomever they want. There are 4,763 total democratic delegates, 712 of whom are defined as “superdelegates.” This “super” 15 percent could theoretically tip the balance of the election, though that’s probably not going to happen.

To put this in context, let’s look at New Hampshire. New Hampshire has 32 delegates that it will send to the DNC. The results of the New Hampshire primary left Hillary Clinton with nine of the regular delegates and Bernie Sanders with 15. But there are still eight other “superdelegates” from New Hampshire who can vote for whomever they choose, and 6 of those are already publicly in support of Clinton, according to a report by NBC. This means that, when you look at it closer, New Hampshire wasn’t as much of a win for Sanders as one would initially think.

Now, it’s important to look at who these superdelegates are. In an election where there is a clear winner, it wouldn’t benefit the superdelegates to vote against their state’s decision. Most of them are politicians and hold public office. Voting against their state’s wishes would hurt their chances of getting re-elected. So most likely, when the DNC comes around, they will end up voting for whom their state decided. If, however, there is a close election – as there is this year – it could very well be that those few superdelegates could determine the fate of the election. The belief by many within the Democratic Party regarding the lack of electability of Sanders could very well be the deciding factor that gains Clinton a successful nomination by the party in a close primary battle.

Regardless of whether or not the superdelegates vote with their state or in accord with their on views, even having superdelegates goes against the democratic process. Giving 15 percent of the people voting for a nominee the power to do so unbound by public opinion takes away from the point of having the public vote. Many here at The University agree.

As senior Maria Gentile said, “We are told all the time to ‘get up and vote’…that what we are saying matters. Even if all of the superdelegates vote the way their state does, I still think it’s scary that we give them the opportunity to not do so. Why should their vote be worth more than mine?”

Many think that the delegate system should be done away with, but there is danger in that as well as Christopher Kustera, graduate teaching assistant, points out: “I sympathize with the people that rebel against the delegate system, but I’m hesitant to agree with ripping down a system without a replacement. There are negative consequences to unfiltered public outcry, which is often incited and infused by passion and emotion, which are not always the best decision making capabilities.”

According to a GOP article published in December, the Republican Party ruled in 2015 that their superdelegtaes must vote for the candidate that their state voted for. Meaning that those high up in the Republican Party won’t have the same type of influence that those high up in the Democratic Party will to shift a nomination to another candidate. So even if the party heads disagree with a certain candidate who is winning primaries, they can’t shift the balance away from him or her.

Primary results as of Monday

Currently, Donald Trump has 67 delegates, and the next leading candidate in the party (Ted Cruz) has 11. Republican candidates need 1, 237 delegates to win the election.

Clinton and Sanders are both tied at 51 regular delegates, though 451 superdelegates have come out in support of Clinton, and only 19 for Sanders. This brings the totals to 502 for Clinton, and 70 for Sanders. Democrats need 2, 383 delegates to win the election. While we are still a far way off from the general election, Sanders is in a situation similar to the one Clinton found herself in when running against President Barack Obama. And we all know how that turned out.

Contact the writer: zachary.dyer@scranton.edu

One Response to The Skeleton Scoop: Breaking down one story each week to the bare bones

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