It's...Superdelegate! Faster than an electronic voting machine, more powerful than a group of Democrats in a caucus, able to leap over previous delegate counts in a single bound!
Much like Dear Abby, I answer the political questions that I am sent, and this week, I was sent the same question by three different people. After Hillary Clinton won enough superdelegates in New Hampshire to tie Bernie Sanders in the delegate count, people were abuzz, wondering what these superdelegates were and why they have so much power.
Let's clear up the biggest misconception first. Yes, superdelegates is one word, thank you very much spell check.
But what is a superdelegate? In the Democratic primary, there are around 712 delegates, out of the 4,763 total delegates in play during the Democratic primary. They are what's called "unpledged" delegates, meaning their support isn't bound by the popular vote in whatever state they're from, and they can change it at any time. So, delegates currently backing Clinton can switch before the nominating convention in June to back Sanders.
The people who get to be unpledged superdelegates aren't regular voters like you and I. The 712 superdelegates are made up of all the elected Democratic governors, Senators, Congresspeople, as well as the chairs of the Democratic party in every state, and distinguished party leaders.
Superdelegates were brought into the party in the eighties, to balance the wishes of voters with the Democratic party's need to nominate electable candidates. The Republican Party has a similar system, though they only have three per state, which adds up to 150, less than the Democrats 752.
These superdelegates make up about 15% of the overall delegate count, and are free to change their mind at any point. After all, they're human too. In a very close race, where candidates split many of the state delegates, there's a possibility that superdelegates could decide the race. But that's highly unlikely.
Clinton came out even in New Hampshire because, as of this point, she has near-unanimous support among the superdelegates, so even though she lost the primary (gaining 9 delegates to Sanders' 15) she came out even because six of the superdelegates in New Hampshire (elected officials and party chairs) supported her.
But as with everything, New Hampshire is a special case. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: there's no reason that Iowa and New Hampshire should be the first states, because neither have that many delegates. I think the only reason Clinton was able to tie up the nomination is that New Hampshire only has 24 regular delegates, and 8 super delegates (probably because it has a giant state government). In a proportional delegate allocation, it's absolutely possible that superdelegates would push a candidate over the edge.
I think that is far less likely to happen in a state like California, which has 546 delegates, or New York, with 291 delegates, or even my little home state of New Mexico with 43 delegates. In a state with no people, and the third largest legislature in the English speaking world, it's a big possibility that superdelegates might counteract actual delegates. There's just not that many actual delegates to give out.
There's absolutely an argument for removing the superdelegates, and allowing the people to decide. There's also a related argument that our country places way too much emphasis and attention on states that don't really matter in the primaries like Iowa and New Hampshire, and maybe we should make Nevada the First in the Nation primary, if only so we focus more national attention on how cool Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) looks in sunglasses.