Whatever Sanders says, there can’t be a contested Democratic National Convention

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland in July. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

Political pundits and junkies alike thrill to the prospect of contested conventions, with multiple votes needed to pick a nominee.

And, while Senator Bernie Sanders says this is going to happen at the Democratic National Convention, there’s no way it can.

Sanders hangs his claim on defining “contested convention” in a way it never has been before and ignoring the way voting takes place at the convention.

On Sunday, May 2 Sanders said, “[Clinton] will need super delegates to take her over the top of the convention in Philadelphia. In other words, the convention will be a contested contest.”

But needing superdelegates to get a majority of all delegates is exactly what happened in 2008. No one called that a contested convention.

There was one vote for the nomination, won by then Senator Barack Obama. Contested conventions have multiple ballots.

There were two key things in 2008 that are also true in 2016.

1. Pledged delegates, the ones won from primaries and caucuses, and unpledged delegates, also known as superdelegates, all vote on the first ballot, taken state by state.

2. With two candidates, mathematically one must receive a majority of the delegates’ votes. The candidate who gets a majority is the nominee.

This is pretty basic stuff.

Why is Sanders saying there could be a contested convention?

Sanders, who became a member of the Democratic Party rather recently, has likely never gone to the party’s national convention, so perhaps he is confused about how voting takes place.

Some have suggested this claim is being made to keep fundraising going and volunteers engaged so that Sanders can keep his campaign viable through the end of the primaries. Sanders would like to stay in the race to spread his message and in case there is a massive change in voter preferences.

Last month’s fundraising report showed a 40% drop in donations to the Sanders campaign, which has had to lay off hundreds of staffers.

That big decline is likely a result of many Sanders supporters realizing that he has virtually no chance of winning a majority of pledged delegates. To do so, right now Sanders would have to win all remaining contests by an average of 30 percentage points — 65% to 35%. Doing worse than that in any primary or caucus would require Sanders to win even bigger in primaries and caucuses after that.

Whatever Sanders’ reason, there can’t be a contested convention when all delegates vote together and there are only two candidates.

Note: This has also been published at the Huffington Post.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.