How Does the Presidential Preference Election Work?

On March 17, registered Democrats will go to the polls to indicate their preference for the Democratic Presidential Nominee (or, if they receive ballots by mail, the ballots must be returned to an elections office by 7 pm on March 17). Early voting is now underway — we’ve published information on early voting here. Please note that recognized parties in Arizona are not required to participate in the PPE, and the Democratic Party is the only party participating in the March 17, 2020, PPE. Only voters registered as Democrats on or before February 18, 2020, are eligible to participate in the 2020 PPE.

The ballot is long because many candidates filed before the December 9 filing deadline. Some of these candidates have suspended their campaigns but still appear on the ballot because of the printing deadline. A full list of candidates who appear on the ballot, preceded by the list of those who have suspended their campaigns, is on the Arizona Secretary of State’s website. It’s fair to anticipate that other candidates will suspend their campaigns following the votes on “Super Tuesday” — March 3.

So, why does it matter that you express your “preference?” Because it will determine which delegates go to represent Arizona at the Democratic National Convention in July. The rules for delegate selection and conduct at the convention are complex. Here is the Arizona state party Delegate Selection Plan. Here is the national party delegate selection plan. Unless you want to become a delegate to the National Convention, here are the key points you’ll want to know:

  1. Any presidential candidate who receives less than 15% of the vote in the PPE will receive no delegates to the convention. (If no candidate receives 15%, the percentage goes down to 7.5%.)
  2. Candidates who receive 15% or more will be allotted delegates proportionate to their percentage of the total vote in their Congressional District (for district-level delegate selection) and proportionate to the statewide vote for at-large delegates.
  3. The Arizona presidential primary election is a “binding” primary, accordingly, delegates elected at the Congressional District level and at large (totaling 68 delegates) must declare their support for a presidential candidate and the candidates may review and reject those delegates whose support they doubt. In addition, Arizona has 11 “automatic” (aka, “super”) delegates who are not pledged to any candidate but who may not vote on the first ballot at the convention.

Further info: After the first ballot at the July convention — where a candidate must receive 1,991 votes (50% of pledged delegates plus one) to win the nomination — all pledged delegates are released and we’d be into contested convention territory. Pledged delegates are no longer pledged and super-delegates enter the mix. The last time that happened was 1952. But your vote in the PPE still matters. The people who are elected as pledged delegates will have run in competitive races where they had to prove their commitment to their presidential candidate and also have survived a screening process by that candidate’s campaign. Pledged delegates are likely to take their second ballot responsibility seriously — if it gets that far.

But, back to March 17 and your ballot. Vote your heart — who do you think will be the best president from among those who remain in the race? The system only works if you do that.


Related: The DNC Will NOT Change the Rules on Superdelegates

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