Before heading into the voting booth Tuesday for New York’s presidential primary, there are a few things you should know. Especially you Democrats.
First of all, only people registered as Republicans or Democrats can vote in the primary. Green Party? Registered Conservative? Not registered to a party? Stay home.
The Republican ballot is pretty simple, although along with the three candidates in the running (Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich), Florida surgeon Ben Carson, who has pulled out of the race, is still on the ballot as a fourth option.
As for Democrats, they’ll see the names of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, of course, but to the right of each candidate will be the names of delegates. The number of delegates varies from district to district — there are seven for each candidate in the 20th Congressional District, which includes Schenectady and Albany counties, and parts of Montgomery, Rensselaer and Saratoga counties.
After you vote for your preferred candidate, you can vote for delegates: either all those listed for your candidates, or some from each row.
Not everyone chooses delegates, though. When the ballots are counted, some are found to be “undervoted” according to Amy Hild and Darlene Harris of the Schenectady County Board of Elections, meaning that people selected a candidate but then ignored all or some of the delegates. Some don’t realize a Clinton supporter can vote for their candidate and then fill in the circle for a Sanders’ delegate, or vice versa.
It’s one of the many idiosyncrasies of the U.S. primary system that can bring on anxiety attacks in the most well-informed of voters.
In the 2008 New York primary pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton, about a third of the ballots were “undervoted” in Schenectady County.
“I think voters looking for the best outcome will want to vote for all the delegates pledged to their candidate,” said Democratic U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko. “There might be some voters that have a friendship with a delegate pledged to a different candidate and they’ll vote for that person, but the board of elections will figure out all that calculus. It can be confusing, but it’s distributed proportionally, and I think most people will vote for the whole slate of delegates pledged to their candidate.”
Unless you’re an enthusiastic and involved member of your county’s Democratic committee, you’re probably not going to recognize the names listed as possible delegates. And, in order for a candidate to win all the delegates listed on the ballot, he or she has to keep his or her opponent under 15 percent in the actual vote count.
No one expects that to happen here. New York is a proportional primary state, which means that the delegates are actually running against each other. The delegates that win get to go to the convention.
“We don’t really view it that way, we just encourage all of the Bernie voters to vote for all the delegates,” said Heather Spitzberg, a Slingerlands resident, co-founder of NY Capital Region for Bernie and one of the seven delegates listed for Sanders on Schenectady County’s 20th Congressional Ballot. “If the voting is close to 50-50, then both candidates will get three delegates. So ultimately the delegates are running against each other, but we’re a pretty cohesive group and we’re all supporting each other.”
Before the national convention in Philadelphia, July 25-28, New York Democrats will get together in New York City on May 24 for the New York State Democratic Committee Meeting. There, the 247 delegates elected in the primary will gather, along with 44 unpledged delegates.
That last group, the so-called “superdelegates,” is made up of 21 Democratic National Committee members, 20 members of Congress (two senators and 18 representatives, including Tonko), Gov. Andrew Cuomo and two “distinguished party leaders.”
In New York’s case, those two leaders are former president Bill Clinton and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Those 44 delegates head to Philadelphia officially listed as “unpledged,” and can chose either candidates at the national convention.
In New York, the Republican story isn’t quite so complicated, at least on the face of it.
New York will send 95 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 18-21, and 81 of them will be bound to presidential candidates based on the primary results.
Those 81 (three delegates from each of the 27 congressional districts) have been approved by the candidates. And, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote in a district, or only one candidate receives 20 percent or more of the vote, that candidate receives all three delegates from the district.
New York Republicans have 14 remaining delegates that are bound to the winner of the statewide primary contest. If a candidate’s statewide vote count reaches 50 percent he gets all 14 delegates.
Those 14 delegates, by the way, are made up of 10 at-large delegates, one bonus delegate and three Republican National Convention delegates. Eleven of these individuals will be determined at the state committee meeting on Wednesday, May 25.
Each state has its own primary process, controlled by the respective party’s state committee. It’s different enough from state to state and complicated enough that some campaigns might not be acutely aware of how things are done.
As an example, in Colorado’s “precinct caucuses” and “county assemblies” held throughout March, the Trump camp’s lack of preparedness allowed Cruz to win all 21 delegates based on the voting, and collect 13 more from the state convention on April 9. And, at the national convention, things can get even trickier as delegates have the opportunity to change the system.
“Part of the problem is the parties keep changing the rules to solve the problems they ran into last time,” said Skidmore College political science professor Chris Mann. “There ought to be a way of simplifying things to make it clearer. There are loopholes and relics of the old system still in place, and they’re also different all over the country.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]