This week Mila talked with Drew Kromer, a Democratic activist and current Biden delegate from North Carolina. Drew organized the Democratic precinct in his college town of Davidson, NC, before becoming Vice Chair of the National Council of the College Democrats. Thanks to his years of local political work, Drew now has the privilege of serving as a Democratic delegate in this year’s Democratic National Convention, which just happened this week.
Listen to Drew’s interview here!
Drew’s story demonstrates how local political action can create long-term change. It can also be the first step in a ladder of civic engagement that ends wherever you want.
“The sky is really the limit on where you want to take your political involvement,” he told Mila. “The Democratic Party is truly a big tent party, and there are opportunities for people to get involved in all different levels of the system. And the more you show up and the more you’re active in it, the more you’re going to be asked to help at it at a higher level.”
Becoming a delegate is an honor and a reward for dedicated civic work—but what exactly is a delegate, and what do they do?
In short, delegates decide who gets their party’s nomination for President. There are two kinds of delegates in the Democratic party: pledged delegates and superdelegates. Pledged delegates get apportioned to each candidate based on their share of votes in a state, and they total 3,979 nationwide. Superdelegates are automatic delegates and are not required to support a specific candidate. Superdelegates often include party leaders and elected officials (PLEOs), but PLEOs can also be pledged delegates. This election cycle, the DNC hosts 771 superdelegates.
Now for the complicated part: there are three types of pledged delegates. Some pledged delegates are “pledged district delegates,” meaning they get allocated based on congressional district (or sometimes state legislative district, depending on the state). Next are “pledged at-large delegates,” who are chosen based on the overall state vote. Third, “pledged ‘add-on’ delegates” are confusingly a thing. These “add-on” delegates are often PLEOs and get awarded to each state based on a formula that adds the total number of pledged district and at-large delegates and multiplies this number by 0.15. These “add-on” delegates usually vote the same way “at-large” delegates do—that is, based on state vote totals. Confused yet?
The exact number of delegates each candidate receives per district and state is also not straightforward. Candidates receive a proportional amount of delegates based on their percentage of the vote in each congressional district AND statewide, but ONLY if they received more than 15% of the vote totals in these categories.
For instance, let’s say there are 30 delegates up for grabs at the state level. Candidate A gets 50% of the vote, Candidate B 36%, and Candidate C 14%. Candidate C falls below the threshold, gets no delegates, and their votes don’t count. Now, the vote percentages get retotaled based on the remaining 86% of votes. Candidate A got 50% out of 100% of the votes, but 58% of the remaining 86%, based on the formula 50/(50+36). Candidate B gets 42% based on 36/(50+36). After rounding, Candidate A receives 17 delegates, and Candidate B gets 13. This formula decides Congressional District delegate totals as well.
For a much more in-depth explanation of delegate allocation, check out this excellent Washington Post piece.
In the 2020 primary, the Democratic nominee needed to secure 1,991 pledged delegates to become the party’s nominee. If this didn’t happen, those unpledged superdelegates step in and vote, with the nominee being whoever got the most total delegate votes between pledged and unpledged. This year, Joe Biden won 2,687, making him the apparent nominee. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders came in second with 1,073. Once the Superdelegates voted, Biden’s count rose to 3,558 to Sanders’ 1,151.
Biden is this year’s obvious winner, but Sanders still won more than 1000 delegates, giving him a spot on the nomination list. Earlier this week, many viewers were confused when Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nominated Sanders for the presidency—but this is all part of the convention. Those 1,151 delegates supporting Sanders still need to cast their votes, so Sanders needed to be nominated at the convention, although his chance of beating Biden is effectively zero.
Last night, Biden accepted the Democratic nomination for the Presidency of the United States, in an election that is critical to the democratic future of America. Now comes the final stretch, and with it, the future of American politics.
Bump, Philip. “Analysis | Why Primary Votes Don’t Always Equal Delegates, or How the 15 Percent Threshold Works.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 25 Feb. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/02/25/how-democratic-delegate-math-works/.
“Democratic Delegate Rules, 2020.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Democratic_delegate_rules,_2020.
“Election 2020 – Democratic Delegate Count.” RealClearPolitics, www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2020/president/democratic_delegate_count.html.
Frank, Carla. “I’m Joe Biden’s Delegate Director, I’m 29 – & This Is How I Prepped For The Virtual DNC.” How Joe Biden Delegate Director Prepped For The DNC, www.refinery29.com/en-us/2020/08/9970042/dnc-joe-biden-campaign-delegate-director-carla-frank-diary.
Gamboa, Suzanne, et al. “DNC Latino Delegates Say Mobilizing Voters for Biden ‘Is about Saving the Country’.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 20 Aug. 2020, www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/dnc-latino-delegates-say-mobilizing-voters-biden-about-saving-country-n1237274.
Johnwschoen. “Confused by the Democratic Primary Race? Here’s How Candidates Win Delegates.” CNBC, CNBC, 13 Feb. 2020, www.cnbc.com/2020/02/11/how-primary-elections-work.html.
McMinn, Sean. “How Many Delegates Do The 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates Have?” NPR, NPR, 11 Mar. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/02/10/799979293/how-many-delegates-do-the-2020-presidential-democratic-candidates-have.
“Superdelegates and the 2016 Democratic National Convention.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Superdelegates_and_the_2016_Democratic_National_Convention.
“Why Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Nominated Bernie Sanders at the DNC, and How Many Delegates He Got.” ABC News, ABC News Network, abcnews.go.com/Politics/alexandria-ocasio-cortez-nominated-bernie-sanders-dnc-delegates/story?id=72461398.