Wednesday, May 27, 2020

2020 Democratic Delegate Allocation: WASHINGTON, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


Election type: primary
Date: June 2
Number of delegates: 44 [5 at-large, 2 PLEOs, 13 congressional district, 24 automatic/superdelegates]
Allocation method: proportional statewide and at the sub-district level
Threshold to qualify for delegates: 15%
2016: proportional primary
Delegate selection plan [includes post-coronavirus plans]

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.

In 2016, Washington, DC Democrats brought up the rear of the primary calendar with a contest on the second Tuesday in June. But in a cost-saving move, the DC Council opted in 2017 to consolidate the presidential primary with local primaries and to schedule the contest for the third Tuesday in June. That date was chosen not only because local schools would be done for the year by then (and thus would reduce conflicts with the school calendar and operation), but also because the early voting window would not overlap with Memorial Day.

Granted, that late date while advantageous from those angles also would put the DC presidential primary in violation of the national parties' rules on the timing of delegate selection events. It would have been too late. As a result, the DC Council in 2019 worked to shift the primary up two weeks to the first Tuesday in June and tweak the early voting window to prevent the Memorial Day issue.

All of that happened before 2020 and before the coronavirus intervened and shook up election administration across the country. In the face of those challenges, DC did not move its primary again (as some states have done), but the decision was made by the Board of Elections to encourage all voters to request an absentee ballot in early April and the DC Council followed that up later in the month with an emergency coronavirus relief bill that called for the distribution of absentee vote-by-mail applications to all eligible District voters.1 As of three weeks ago -- a month after the Board of Elections began pushing voters to request absentee ballots -- 34,000 voters had requested them.

In-person voting has not been eliminated, began on May 22 and will conclude on Election Day, June 2. The Board of Elections will not open the usual 144 voting centers on election day, but will instead work with an unknown but reduced number of sites.

All mail-in ballots are due to the DC Board of Elections office postmarked on or before Tuesday, June 2. As long as the ballot is postmarked by election day, it will be accepted up to seven (7) days after June 2.

Overall, the Democratic delegation from Washington, DC changed by just one delegate from 2016 to 2020. The number of superdelegates increased by one while the three pledged delegate categories all remained the same.

[Please see below for more on the post-coronavirus changes specifically 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)
Washington, DC's 13 "congressional" district delegates are split across two districts of four wards each. There is a variation across those districts of just one delegate from the measure of Democratic strength District of Columbia Democrats are using based on the results of the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections in the state (plus Democratic registration in the nation's capital on January 1, 2020). That method apportions delegates as follows...
District 1 (Wards 1, 2, 6 & 8) - 7 delegates*
District 2 (Wards 3, 4, 5 & 7) - 6 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.]

Delegate selection took a hit in Washington, DC as it did in other places because of the coronavirus, but it's impact was not as far-reaching. Like South Dakota, DC's comparatively late primary on the original calendar forced decision makers within the Democratic Party there to include some pre-primary elements. The district delegates, for instance, were to have been selected on April 18. However, the pandemic forced those in-person caucuses online and voting occurred from April 25-May 21 to determine slates of district delegates with which allocated slots will be filled after the primary.

Initially, the district-wide delegates were to have been selected at two separate post-primary meetings of the DC State Central Committee. PLEO delegates would have been chosen on June 4 and at-large delegates a week later on June 11. Now, in the wake of the coronavirus, the there will be just one meeting -- on June 11 -- and both sets of district-wide delegates will be selected there. That meeting is still tentatively planned to be an in-person affair unless social distancing measures remain in place. In that scenario, the June 11 Central Committee meeting will shift to Zoom.

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-June when the Washington, DC district-wide delegate selection takes place but Candidate Y is not, then any statewide delegates allocated to Candidate Y in the early June 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.

1 Here is the language from the bill -- B23-0733 -- specific to the mailing of absentee applications (with paid-postage return envelopes):
"For the June 2, 2020, Primary Election, mail every registered qualified elector an absentee ballot application and a postage-paid return envelope."

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