The Democratic Primary Calendar

We’re down to 75 days until the 2016 Iowa caucuses. At the 100-day mark, I looked at the Republican Primary schedule and the quirks of how the GOP awarded its delegates for the national convention. Today I’ll do the same for the Democrats.

For the Democratic Primary schedule and how many delegates each state gets at the Democratic National Convention, check either to the right (if you’re on a computer) or below (mobile site). For details on how those delegates were apportioned, read below. Be warned: this will not be pretty. (Thank you to the colossally enlightening for most of this information.)

First things first: there will be an estimated 4,764 delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, of which a simple majority is needed to become the nominee (2,883). Of the 4,764, only 4,051, or about 85 percent, are “pledged delegates” beholden to the voters. The other 713 are unpledged delegates, better known as the infamous “superdelegates” that some suspected might choose the Democratic nominee during the Clinton-Obama Cage Match of 2008. Superdelegates include the 442 members of the Democratic National Committee; Democratic governors, U.S. Senators and House members; and “distinguished party leaders,” such as former presidents, Congressional leaders, and Chairs of the National Committee. Andrew Jackson might also have a vote, I’m not sure. You might recall that the GOP also had unpledged delegates, but there were only 168 of them — 3 per state and territory. In total, 93 percent of Republican delegates are chosen by voters, but only about 5 in 6 of Democratic delegates are. The irony of the “Democratic” Party name is not lost on this blogger.

Like the Republican convention, the number of pledged delegates per territory is partially determined by population. Another important factor is how strongly the territory has voted for the Democratic candidate in the last three presidential elections of 2012, 2008, and 2004. The DNC adds up all the Democratic votes from the territory in those three elections (a State’s Democratic Vote, or SDV) then divides that figure by total Democratic votes cast in the country (Total Democratic Vote, or TDV). They then add to that number the state’s average electoral votes over those three elections (State’s Electoral Votes, or SEV), but not before dividing THAT number by 538, the total electoral votes from the Electoral College. Then, just for fun, they take that figure and multiply it by one-half. That’s how you determine a state’s “Allocation Factor” (AF). The equation would look like: AF = ([SDV/TDV] + [SEV/538]) x 0.5. Done, right?

Nope. They then take the Allocation Factor and multiply it by 3,200, because why the hell not. Finally, of course, they take that ugly number and round up to the nearest whole number. That number becomes a state’s Base Votes (BV), or delegation size to the convention.

Wait, did I say “finally”? Sorry, jumped the gun. We’re a couple paragraphs away from “finally.” The DNC is also awarding each state 15 percent more pledged delegates for “party leader and elected official delegates,” of PLEOs. These PLEOs are similar to superdelegates insofar as it will be important Democratic leaders casting votes, except these PLEOs are pledged to uphold voters’ wishes.

And we’re STILL not done. The DNC also awards bonus delegates for patience. I wish I was joking. With the exception of the four opening states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina — territories are encouraged to wait as long as possible to hold their contests so as to avoid everyone jumping up in order to have more influence on the horse race coverage. There are several “stages” to hold a primary, and the stage determines what kind of bonus a delegation receives. These stages are:

  • Pre-window: The month of February. Only the four opening states are allowed to hold their contest in the window. All other states who do so will have delegates stripped at the convention.
  • Stage I: The month of March. Primaries held here will receive no bonus.
  • Stage II: The month of April. Primaries held here will receive a 10 percent bonus to their delegation size.
  • Stage III: May 1 through June 14. Primaries held here earn a 20 percent bonus to their delegation size.

But wait! There’s more! If, starting on March 22, three states that border each other agree to hold their primaries on the same day (a “cluster”), they get an addition 15 percent bonus. Thus, if a state holds their primary with two neighboring states on May 1 or later, they get a 35 percent bump on their Base Votes.

It is, without question, an absurd equation for determining a presidential nominee, and they better hope no election is ever close enough for this process to get scrutinized.

Since I might have lost you in that explanation, let’s look at an example. Take my home state of Connecticut (please!). In 2004, 2008, and 2012, it cast a total of 2,760,343 votes for Senator Kerry, Senator Obama, and President Obama. That figure is its “State Democratic Vote.” That number is divided by the “Total Democratic Vote” over those elections of 194,294,573, which gives us 0.014207. Next, Connecticut’s average of seven “State Electoral Votes” for each of those elections is divided by 538, giving us 0.013011. We add those two numbers together, which gives us 0.027218. Half of that is 0.013609. Now we multiply it by 3,200 to get 43.5488, which rounds to 44 “Base Votes.” We’ll add 15 percent for those pledged PLEOs to arrive at 50.6. Connecticut is scheduled to have its primary on April 26 (my mother’s birthday; don’t let me forget), giving it a 10 percent bonus on its 44 Base Votes, or 4.4 more delegates, which, added to the 50.6, brings us to 55. Only neighboring Rhode Island is holding it on the same day, so there’s no 15 percent “cluster” bonus on top of it. Thus, Connecticut remains at 55 pledged delegates at the convention.

If that made sense, then I pulled off a minor miracle.

As for the non-states, which have no electoral votes to factor, they’re also benefiting from democracy at its best by just arbitrarily getting assigned delegate numbers. Guam, the Northern Marianas, the Virgin Islands, and the American Samoa get six delegates each. Puerto Rico gets 44. Finally, American Democrats living in other countries can pool their absentee ballots into one fierce “Democrats Abroad” conglomerate of 12 delegates. All of these are Base Votes that can also stand to benefit from delaying their primaries.

Okay, I’ll put you out of your misery. Here’s the calendar. (Note that in this Wikipedia calendar, which was the clearest I could find for our purposes, Connecticut is listed as 51 pledged delegates even though Wikipedia’s citation, thegreenpapers, has it listed at 55. I suspect the Wiki hasn’t been updated as the calculations came in.)


Past blogs:

The Republican Primary Calendar


8 thoughts on “The Democratic Primary Calendar

  1. Come on, it’s really not so absurd. You could pretty simply explain the Allocation Factor as: “Find the state’s proportion of electoral votes and proportion of real democratic votes in the last three presidential elections. Take the mean of those two figures to find the proportion of base delegates they will receive.”

    Granted, the 3200 figure does seem pretty arbitrary, but I suppose that’s just the total number of pledged delegates subtracting PLEOs, territories, and other “bonuses”.


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