Saturday, June 6, 2020

2020 Democratic Delegate Allocation: PUERTO RICO


Election type: primary
Date: July 12
    [March 29 originally and then April 26]
Number of delegates: 58 [11 at-large, 7 PLEOs, 33 congressional district, 7 automatic/superdelegates]
Allocation method: proportional statewide and at the district level
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15%
2016: proportional primary
Delegate selection plan (post-coronavirus)

Changes since 2016
If one followed the 2016 series on the Republican process here at FHQ, then you may end up somewhat disappointed. The two national parties manage the presidential nomination process differently. The Republican National Committee is much less hands-on in regulating state and state party activity in the delegate selection process than the Democratic National Committee is. That leads to a lot of variation from state to state and from cycle to cycle on the Republican side. Meanwhile, the DNC is much more top down in its approach. Thresholds stay the same. It is a 15 percent barrier that candidates must cross in order to qualify for delegates. That is standard across all states. The allocation of delegates is roughly proportional. Again, that is applied to every state.

That does not mean there are no changes. The calendar has changed as have other facets of the process such as whether a state has a primary or a caucus.

For years Puerto Rico Democrats have maintained their early June position on the presidential primary calendar. But with a competitive race and multi-candidate field on the horizon for the 2020 cycle the legislature in the island US territory opted in mid-2019 to move the election up more than two months to the end of March.

Although, as with so much else in 2020, the best laid plans for an earlier contest and consequential impact on the race were scuttled by the outbreak of the coronavirus in mid-March. And with that late March contest, Puerto Rico was very much in the crosshairs, more immediately in need of a change to the date of the contest and/or the method by which it would be conducted. The initial legislative response to the coronavirus was to shift the primary to a later date, one month later on the last Sunday in April. And that option wisely provided a fallback option to postpone the Democratic presidential primary and have the party, in consultation with the elections commission, choose a different and later date. The coronavirus's spread forced the issue soon thereafter in early April, and the Puerto Rico Democratic Party indefinitely delayed the primary. The contest was not rescheduled again until late May when the party selected a July 12 date for its presidential primary (a calendar position that had been hinted at during a DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) meeting).

As with other states that have technically broken the DNC rules on the timing of delegate selection events after June 9, Puerto Rico Democrats also had to seek a waiver from the DNCRBC in order to move forward with a contest on the new July date. That waiver was granted.

While the date of the primary has changed, little else has. Early and absentee voting remain very limited on the island, and unless the laws are changed before the primary, the contest will be predominantly in-person.


Overall, the Democratic delegation in Puerto Rico changed by nine delegates from 2016 to 2020. Since the primary in the territory moved from June in 2016 to March in 2020, Democrats in Puerto Rico lost their timing bonus and saw their district delegates decrease by seven and their at-large delegate pool shrink by two delegates. The PLEO and superdelegate totals remained the same in 2020 as they were in 2016.

[Please see below for more on the post-coronavirus changes specific to the delegate selection process.]

The standard 15 percent qualifying threshold applies both statewide and on the congressional district level.

Delegate allocation (at-large and PLEO delegates)
To win any at-large or PLEO (pledged Party Leader and Elected Officials) delegates a candidate must win 15 percent of the statewide vote. Only the votes of those candidates above the threshold will count for the purposes of the separate allocation of these two pools of delegates.

See New Hampshire synopsis for an example of how the delegate allocation math works for all categories of delegates.

Delegate allocation (congressional district delegates)
Puerto Rico's 33 congressional district delegates are split across eight senatorial districts and have a variation of just one delegate across districts. There is no measure of Democratic strength based on past elections because Puerto Ricans are not involved in presidential general elections. The party, then, apportions delegates as follows...
District 1 (San Juan) - 4 delegates
District 2 (Bayamon) - 4 delegates
District 3 (Arecibo) - 5 delegates*
District 4 (Mayaguez) - 4 delegates
District 5 (Ponce) - 4 delegates
District 6 (Guayama) - 4 delegates
District 7 (Humacao) - 4 delegates
District 8 (Carolina) - 4 delegates

*Bear in mind that districts with odd numbers of national convention delegates are potentially important to winners (and those above the qualifying threshold) within those districts. Rounding up for an extra delegate initially requires less in those districts than in districts with even numbers of delegates.

Delegate allocation (automatic delegates/superdelegates)
Superdelegates are free to align with a candidate of their choice at a time of their choosing. While their support may be a signal to voters in their state (if an endorsement is made before voting in that state), superdelegates will only vote on the first ballot at the national convention if half of the total number of delegates -- pledged plus superdelegates -- have been pledged to one candidate. Otherwise, superdelegates are locked out of the voting unless 1) the convention adopts rules that allow them to vote or 2) the voting process extends to a second ballot. But then all delegates, not just superdelegates will be free to vote for any candidate.

[NOTE: All Democratic delegates are pledged and not bound to their candidates. They are to vote in good conscience for the candidate to whom they have been pledged, but technically do not have to. But they tend to because the candidates and their campaigns are involved in vetting and selecting their delegates through the various selection processes on the state level. Well, the good campaigns are anyway.]

The selection of delegates in Puerto Rico was not fundamentally affected. While the timing was pushed back as with the primary itself, the mechanics of delegate selection have not been changed all that much. District delegates will continue to be directly elected on the July 12 presidential primary ballot just as they would have been on either March 29 or April 26 before.

Both PLEO and then at-large delegates will be chosen at the state convention on July 26. The voting members of the convention who will select PLEO delegates include the central committee and the district delegates (to the national convention) elected on the July 12 ballot. At-large delegates will then be chosen by the same central committee members and district delegates plus the just selected PLEO delegates.

None of that -- other than the timing -- is different from what was planned before the coronavirus.

Importantly, if a candidate drops out of the race before the selection of statewide delegates, then any statewide delegates allocated to that candidate will be reallocated to the remaining candidates. If Candidate X is in the race in mid- to late July when the Puerto Rico statewide delegate selection takes place but Candidate Y is not, then any statewide delegates allocated to Candidate Y in the mid-July primary would be reallocated to Candidate X. [This same feature is not something that applies to district delegates.] This reallocation only applies if a candidate has fully dropped out.  This is less likely to be a factor with just Biden left as the only viable candidate in the race, but Sanders could still gain statewide delegates by finishing with more than 15 percent statewide. Under a new deal struck between the Biden and Sanders camps, Biden will be allocated (or reallocated) all of the statewide delegates in a given state. However, during the selection process, the state party will select Sanders-aligned delegate candidates in proportion to the share of the qualified statewide vote.

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