WASHINGTON (AP) — A quirk in how delegates are won under Democratic Party rules is raising the stakes for Tuesday’s elections, allowing a candidate to make up ground in the race quickly — or fall further behind.
Five states — Michigan, Washington, Missouri, Mississippi and Idaho — hold Democratic primaries on Tuesday, while North Dakota has a caucus. All told, there are 352 delegates up for grabs. A candidate needs 1,991 delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination.
That makes for only the fourth-largest delegate night on the primary calendar. But the intricate arithmetic of how delegates are won under Democrats’ rules makes it possible for a candidate to reap a bigger haul of delegates with a smaller margin of victory on this Tuesday than on any other night.
For Bernie Sanders, it’s an opportunity to catch up to Joe Biden, who enters the day ahead by 96 delegates. For Biden, it’s a chance to open up what could become an insurmountable lead.
How this happens may seem complicated, but it’s nothing more than some basic math and an “odd” quirk of how delegates are won under party rules.
Most delegates awarded Tuesday — 65% — will be won based on how the candidates perform in individual congressional districts. Think of each district as holding a bucket of delegates. There are also two buckets of delegates in each state awarded based on the overall statewide vote.
On Tuesday, that makes for 51 buckets of delegates across the six states. A candidate needs to win at least 15% of the overall vote in a bucket to be “viable” — or to qualify to win delegates. (That 15% threshold means it’s all but assured that only Biden and Sanders win any delegates from this point forward.)
First, the math. Party rules say each viable candidate wins a proportion of the delegates in each bucket based on his share of the votes cast for the viable candidates in that bucket.
Second, the quirk. Buckets that have an odd number of delegates are impossible to split evenly, meaning either Sanders or Biden is guaranteed to win at least one more than the other.