Sanders Won In Colorado. So, What’s A Superdelegate?

March 4, 2020
Democrats At Stoney’sDemocrats At Stoney’sHart Van Denburg / CPR News
Bernie Sanders won Colorado's Super Tuesday primary election. At the Democrats’ watch party at Stoney’s in Denver winds down on Tuesday, March 3, 2020, Tyler McDermott takes down signs.

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination became a little clearer after Super Tuesday. The field has narrowed — from an initial 28 candidates — to a likely race between two: Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Both are hoping to lock up the nomination before the convention. 

But if no candidate gets a majority of delegates before then, then a select group of people will get a say on who eventually gets the nomination: superdelegates.

What is a superdelegate?

Superdelegates in the Democratic Party are elected officials and party leaders. In Colorado, that means Democratic members of the congressional delegation and party leaders: Governor Jared Polis, State Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll and 10 others. 

In total, there will be about 770 superdelegates nationwide who will attend the Democratic National Convention in July in Wisconsin. 

The role of the superdelegate changed after the 2016 Democratic primary, when Sanders and his supporters felt superdelegates, many of whom were pledged to Hillary Clinton, had too much power. 

Now superdelegates only vote starting in the second round of voting. In other words, they only cast a ballot if no candidate secures a majority of the delegates through the primary and caucuses. The magic number to win the nomination is 1,991 out of 3,979 pledged delegates.

What does this mean?

It means that superdelegates only come into play if there is a contested nomination.

On Super Tuesday, 1,357 pledged delegates were up for grabs. Ballots are still being counted in some states, and Biden currently has more than 450 delegates. He's followed closely by Sanders. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren also has some.

There is still a long way to go (and many more contests) before a contested (or brokered) Democratic convention becomes more likely. Many of the recent candidate withdrawals from the race seem to be a step to avoid that outcome. The last time Democrats had a brokered convention was 1952.

There are no rules for how a superdelegate should vote. During the 2016 Democratic primary contest, Clinton had the support of over 600 superdelegates. 

This time around, some superdelegates have endorsed candidates, including some who have since dropped out of the race. While it doesn’t mean they will vote for that candidate, it gives an indication to where they are leaning. Many of Colorado's superdelegates have not made any presidential endorsement yet. 

Dean of the Colorado delegation, Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette said the responsibility of delegates is simple. “In my opinion, the responsibility of all the delegates this year is to make sure we nominate somebody who can beat Donald Trump."

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