It’s been a race unlike any in the modern history of the Democrats, the United States or the world. When the party set out to choose their champion to take on Donald Trump in 2020, they initially had a crowded field. A surge of dropouts, and then the coronavirus pandemic, didn’t just narrow the race: It raised urgent questions about whether, and how, it would be safe to hold the votes at all. Bernie Sanders cited the pandemic as a reason why he suspended his campaign on April 8, but the specifics of when and how the remaining candidate, Joe Biden, will be crowned the victor are unclear. Here’s a guide to help you follow along.
Making sense of the math
Of the Democrats’ 4,750 delegates, most are pledged delegates, who have to support their home states’ choices. If one candidate gets 1,991 or more of these, they win. Others, called superdelegates, are senior figures in the party who can support whomever they want. Under new rules this year, superdelegates won’t vote unless no one meets the 1,991 threshold before the convention starts. (More on that later.)
What’s next for Biden?
Mr. Biden is effectively the only candidate left, though Mr. Sanders says he’ll keep his name on future ballots so he can amass as many delegates as possible to press Mr. Biden to adopt some of his leftist policies. Some states have cancelled primaries due to the coronavirus pandemic, but states like Arizona, Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin held theirs anyway. As votes continue to be counted, here’s where the delegate count currently stands.
The primary calendar
- Past events
What-if scenarios: How this year’s math was different
One of the reputed benefits of the U.S. primary process is that it leaves lots of time for a bandwagon effect that builds clear consensus around one candidate as their competitors drop out. That’s been more or less the case for every nomination race in both parties for the past 70 years. Until Mr. Sanders dropped out, the less likely (but, to the front-runners, more worrisome) possibility was a brokered convention, in which no candidate had enough delegates to win when the convention held its first ballot.
In a scenario with no brokered convention, the magic number of delegates needed to win is only 1,991, or more than half the 3,979 pledged delegates. If it had remained a competitive race and there were no simple majority on the first ballot, those superdelegates we mentioned would have taken part in the second. There are 771 superdelegates, so with them in play, the threshold for victory is 2,376. The reason why superdelegates got less power this time is because most of them were early supporters of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, which Mr. Sanders and his supporters said was an unfair advantage.
What are the Republicans doing?
Republicans are also holding primaries and caucuses, though some states have cancelled them as the party falls in line behind Mr. Trump. Some candidates are running against him for the nomination, but the Republican convention in August is largely expected to be a Trump coronation. Then he will face off against the Democratic contender in the presidential election on Nov. 3.
Further reading on the U.S. election
With a file from The Associated Press.
Data from The Associated Press, The Green Papers
Top image sources: Frank Franklin II/AP Photo, Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Pete Marovich/The New York Times, Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images, J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo, Robyn Beck / AFP, Samuel Corum/Getty Images, Carlo Allegri/Reuters, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images