Monday, March 2, 2020

So a Candidate Has Dropped Out. What Happens to Their Delegates?

With Pete Buttigieg and now Amy Klobuchar heading for the exits in the 2020 Democratic nomination race, one question has filled my inbox and DMs on Twitter:

What happens now with the 26 pledged delegates Buttigieg has and the 7 in Klobuchar's column?

First of all, 33 delegates obviously does not amount to much in the grand scheme of things when 1991 pledged delegates are needed on the first ballot to clinch the Democratic nomination in 2020. Nonetheless, if this race gets bogged down in the delegate math over the next three months and primary season ends with no clear resolution to who the presumptive nominee is, then those 33 delegates may matter.

But what happens to them? Well, it depends. What has happened so far in the first four states and will happen on Super Tuesday is the allocation of delegate slots to particular candidates. That is important, but it is not the only facet of the process. What runs parallel and very often behind the allocation process is the selection process. That process fills those slots allocated to candidates in primaries and caucuses across the country with actual human beings. 

And those people, when they file to run as delegate candidates, pledge to a particular candidate (or to remain uncommitted if that is their preference and the uncommitted line on the ballot gets 15 percent of the vote). Those pledges are just that: pledges. Delegates are instructed by the national party rules to "in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them." But that is not a binding mechanism. Democratic delegates are not bound as Republican delegates are. They are pledged and technically can support whomever they want regardless of that pledge. However, because of the way they are selected -- typically with some input from the campaigns -- and because the campaigns have the right to review all delegates selected to represent them, they tend to be quite loyal. Pledged delegates can stray, then, but do not often do so.

[Yes, there are laws in some states that require delegates to respect those pledges, but there are questions about the constitutionality of those laws not to mention issues with how a state would even go about challenging that in the context of a national convention that is only in session for a limited amount of time.]

But what are the limits of those pledges? Surely when a candidate drops out of the race something happens to either the delegates allocated to them or who have been selected to represent them. It does. But first what happens depends on how the candidate in question exits the race. Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar have suspended their campaigns.

That is a meaningful distinction. Their campaigns have been suspended but they are still technically candidates in the race. Even without any involvement from those two campaigns, delegate candidates of those two candidates in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada will continue in the delegate selection process.

District delegates of Buttigieg and Klobuchar when they are selected will then immediately become free agents, free to choose a candidate to back or to let candidates woo them as they might superdelegates now. They become a set of first ballot unpledged delegates.

Most of the delegates won by these two candidates are district delegates. Buttigieg claimed nine district delegates in Iowa, six district delegates in New Hampshire and three district delegates in Nevada. Klobuchar was allocated one district delegate in Iowa and an additional four in New Hampshire. Ten of those 23 district delegates -- the ones from New Hampshire -- have already basically been chosen. Slates of district delegates were elected for each active candidate at pre-primary caucuses in the Granite state on January 25. Iowa district delegates will be selected on April 25 and Nevada Democrats will select their district delegates at the party's May 30 state convention. If the Buttigieg and Klobuchar campaigns are still in suspension at those points, then they will retain those delegates and they will all become free agents upon selection.

Things get more complicated when it comes to the ten at-large and PLEO (pledged party leaders and elected officials) delegates. However, as was the case with district delegates, if a candidate's campaign remains in suspension through the selection process, then those delegates will be selected for that candidate and they would become free agents at the convention.

Yet, if the candidate changes the state of the campaign -- comes out of suspension or more formally ends their campaign -- then the process works a bit differently. There is boilerplate language in every state delegate selection plan about how to treat those delegate slots in the event that someone is not longer a candidate:
If a presidential candidate otherwise entitled to an allocation is no longer a candidate at the time of selection of the at-large delegates, their allocation will be proportionally divided among the other preferences entitled to an allocation.
Yes, the delegate slots would be proportionally reallocated to the candidates who 1) got over 15 percent statewide in the primary or caucus originally and 2) are still active in the race for the nomination. But this only applies in the case that a candidate is no longer a candidate. A suspended campaign is still a campaign and the candidate it backs is still a candidate.

If Buttigieg and Klobuchar stay suspended then they have some control over the 33 delegate slots allocated them. More importantly, they would have some control over where their allocated slots do not go. Buttigieg, in his remarks when dropping out of the race, strongly hinted that he was not for a revolution of the sort for which Sanders is advocating. And Klobuchar is set to endorse Biden. If both remain suspended, then their statewide delegates would not be reallocated. And that reallocation would benefit Sanders the most in Iowa and New Hampshire. [Buttigieg won delegates in Nevada but they were district delegates and cannot be reallocated.]

While both candidates may retain some control over who gets selected, they do not have full control over any delegates selected to represent them. An endorsement like the one of Biden from Klobuchar may carry some weight with her handful of delegates, but that is not binding. Those delegates would not have to follow that instruction. They are free agents at the point they are selected.

So, no, 33 delegates is not really much more than a drop in the bucket, but with Super Tuesday looming, these distinctions above may matter a whole lot more if candidates like Bloomberg and Warren rack up some decent numbers of delegates. It could become a lot more consequential.


Tony said...

The Primaries and Caucuses need to use IRV so that when a candidate drops out the selection of who gets the votes is automatic.

nvlawcom said...

Thanks for appearing on NPR today. What happens to the Buttigieg money remitted to the election or re-election campaigns of various Nevada public officials? See the latest Schedule B-P, "Pete for America, Inc." Images Image# 202001319185353117-19.

Do you have any idea why someone running for POTUS would spend donated dollars on non-POTUS purposes? Specifically:

Dina Titus For Congress $500.00
Dream Big Nevada 990.00
Friends Of Connie Munk 250.00
Friends Of Hillary Schieve 500.00
Friends Of Lesley Cohen 250.00
Friends Of Michael Natt 500.00
Friends Of Sarah Peters 250.00