With polls closing in just a few hours across the five states holding primaries on Mega Tuesday, soon all eyes will turn to each candidate's delegate tallies in the race for the presidential nomination. While most U.S. voters are somewhat familiar with the awarding of pledged delegates to each candidate, those pledged delegates, called "superdelegates," could make or break a nomination. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has been steadfastly chasing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's 214 pledged delegate lead — but how many superdelegates does Sanders have? Let's just say, right now, it doesn't look so good.
Sanders currently has 26 superdelegates who have committed to putting forth his name for the presidential nomination at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in July. Meanwhile, Clinton has 467 superdelegates in her corner come July. That's quite a substantial lead over her rival from the Green Mountain State — one that has Sanders supporters crying foul over the superdelegate issue. They argue that the superdelegate system favors Clinton substantially over Sanders. When you look at the numbers, it's not hard to see why they might feel that way. But, like so many things when picking a president, it's a little more complicated than that.
Let's first answer the question "What is a superdelegate?" Oh hey, thanks Google:
Think of superdelegates as the wildcards in the primary season: because they don't have to align themselves with how their state has voted, the nomination could still totally be a toss up, right? Well — yes and no. See? I told you this gets complicated. Let's back it up a second: Democrats award pledged delegates via a proportional system, so if Clinton takes X percent of votes, she'll take that X percent of delegates, too.
But it's those tricky superdelegates that can complicate the math. They don't have to commit to anyone until the moment they vote at the DNC Convention in July. Superdelegates can still endorse or commit to pledge to a certain candidate before the convention. Oh, and even if they do that, superdelegates can still change their minds, too.
Makes total sense, right?
The current superdelegate system within the Democratic Party could very well disenfranchise Democratic voters in the general election should the nomination come down solely to superdelegates' votes. Writing for The Atlantic, Clare Foran notes:
If the race is extremely close, however, superdelegates could effectively act as a tie-breaker. And if voters believe that the party has sabotaged their favorite candidate, they could be angry enough to sit out the general election, whether or not the perception has much basis in reality.
This perception of party sabotage hasn't come out of the minds of Democratic conspiracy theorists, either. In a Feb. 11 interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz all but confirmed that superdelegates are a safeguard for the Democratic establishment. Tapper posed the question of a rigged nomination to Wasserman Schultz, asking: "What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?” Wasserman Schultz's candor stunned many into thinking she'd actually made a party gaffe on live television:
Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists.
It's the "grassroots activists" part of Wasserman Schultz's statement that has Sanders supporters concerned that no matter their "get out to vote" efforts and the numbers of pledged delegates he can accrue, the Vermont senator doesn't actually stand a chance once the delegates cast their votes in July. Earlier this March, even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi spoke out against the superdelegate system, indicating that there is divisiveness over the system even within the Democratic party.
Are superdelegates part of a flawed nominating system within the Democratic party? Unfortunately, yes — and there's little that can be done about it this election cycle. Here's hoping it doesn't completely backfire and undermine the party's hopes of keeping a Democrat in the White House for another four years.