The hotly contested Democratic primary race has left Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former Vice President Joe Biden vying for the 1,991 delegates required to secure the party’s presidential nomination on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention.
If neither one is able to do so and the convention heads to a second ballot, superdelegates would come into play with the potential to decide who goes on to the general election. But what exactly are superdelegates and what role do they play? Here is a brief explainer.
What are superdelegates?
Superdelegates, also known as automatic delegates, are different from the delegates on the line in the primaries in a number of ways. First off, while the delegates up for grabs in the primary contests are generally bound to specific candidates and must vote for them on the first ballot at the convention, the 775 superdelegates can vote for any candidate they like.
A key change for the 2020 race, however, keeps superdelegates out of the first ballot, only allowing them to come into play in the case of a contested convention. Regular bound delegates also become unbound in a contested convention, but the addition of the 775 people representing 771 votes is a game-changer. (Eight unpledged delegates only have a half-vote at the convention.)
Not only does the 1,991 delegate requirement for the first ballot shoot up to 2,375.5 votes to reflect the increase in people, but the identities of the superdelegates could also play a significant factor in a contested convention, especially if there is one between Biden and Sanders.
Who are the superdelegates?
The superdelegates, according to the 2020 Delegate Selection Rules for the Democratic National Convention, are comprised of Democratic National Committee members, all Democratic members of the House and Senate, Democratic governors and all former Democratic presidents, vice presidents, Senate leaders, House speakers, Democratic minority leaders and DNC chairs.
This means that the entirety of this group representing 771 votes is from the Democratic party establishment. In a matchup between Biden and Sanders, this would appear to be a significant advantage for Biden, a former vice president and longtime senator in his own right. Sanders, meanwhile, is not even a member of the Democratic party.
Sanders has called for changing the rules so that instead of needing a 1,991 delegate majority to lock up the nomination before the convention, the candidate with the most delegates would automatically get it. This would avoid contested conventions altogether and would eliminate superdelegates from the process this year, but it is unlikely that the party will make such a change at this point in the race.