What are superdelegates, why are they important, and how many does Hillary Clinton have?

by: Debbie Lord, Cox Media Group National Content Desk Updated:

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, left, greets supporters with her husband and former President Bill Clinton at a Nevada Democratic caucus rally on Feb. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, left, greets supporters with her husband and former President Bill Clinton at a Nevada Democratic caucus rally on Feb. 20, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

While the process to nominate Democrat and Republican candidates for president are essentially the same, there is a notable difference in just who will vote at the  nominating committee.

That difference comes in the form of something Democrats call  a “superdelegate.” You are likely to hear the term – though an unofficial one – quite a bit in the coming months.

Here’s a quick look at what a superdelegate is and what they do.

What is a Superdelegate?

A Superdelegate is a person who is a delegate to the  national nominating convention but who is not “bound” to a candidate,  meaning they may vote for anyone they wish, regardless of the outcome of the popular vote in the states they represent.

Who can be a superdelegate?

In the Democratic  party, superdelegates are made up of two groups – prominent current or formerly-elected Democrats (presidents, governors and all the current Democratic members of the House and Senate) and members of the Democratic National Committee.

How many are there?

There are 712 superdelegates involved in the 2016 nomination process.

How does that voting work?

First some math. The Democratic nomination will be determined by 4,763 total delegates — 4,051 chosen by voters in state caucuses and primaries, and 712 (roughly 15 percent) are superdelegates. The superdelegates are “unbound” meaning they can support whom they wish. Come convention time, they will make their choice and vote along with their state for the candidate of their  choice. 

How long have the Democrats been using superdelegates at conventions?

Since they were created through Democratic National Committee rules in 1982. Following the contentious  1980 convention fight between Sen. Ted Kennedy, (D-Mass.), and former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter, party officials wanted more of a hand in the selection process and created “superdelegates” from each state to achieve that goal.

Where does the delegate count stand today?

As of Feb. 29, 453 superdelegates have pledged to vote for Hillary Clinton, with 20 pledged to vote for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to The New York Times Delegate Tracker. As of the 29th, the day before Super Tuesday,  Clinton has 91 regular delegates and Sanders has 65.

Do Republicans have superdelegates?

Not really. While there are three delegates to the Republican National Convention from each state – the state chairman and two Republican National Committee members  – the RNC rules say, "all of the delegates shall be bound by the results of the primary," -- the state's popular vote.

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