How to Become a Delegate to the Democratic Convention in July

This summer from July 25 through the 28th the city of Philadelphia will host the Democratic National Convention. Of the more than 12,000 people who will attend, 4,763 official delegates will be nominating our next Democratic Presidential candidate. It is sure to be an historic and ground breaking convention regardless of the outcome.

Have you thought about becoming one of those delegates and being part of history?

At this month’s Lake San Marcos Democratic Club monthly meeting Jess Durfee, Chair Emeritus of the San Diego County Democratic Party and a DNC delegate himself, described in detail what is required to take advantage of this “once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Jess first put the current primary in New Hampshire and California’s role in the nominating process in perspective. There were 24 “pledged” delegates at stake in the NH primary, and 8 “super” delegates, or unpledged delegates as well. That total of 32 overall delegates for the entire state is less than the 36 that just San Diego County will have! In total, the state of California will send 546 delegates to Philadelphia in July.

What are “pledged” vs. “unpledged” delegates and how are those delegates assigned to a particular candidate? Pledged delegates are those that are assigned proportionately to each candidate based upon the percentage of votes received in the primary. The total number of delegates are apportioned by Congressional District and in San Diego County we will have 28 across our five congressional districts.

Unpledged, or super delegates are those who are appointed. They are almost exclusively the officers of the party structure (Chair, Vice-Chair, etc.) along with any Democratic Congress Members. They are “unpledged” because they are free to cast their vote at the convention for any candidate they choose. Although many of them may indicate they favor one candidate over another at this point in time, they often will change their choice to align with the will of the voters once the primary election results in June are known. San Diego County will have 8 unpledged delegates, 4 that are ‘at large’ our three Democratic members of Congress Scott Peters, Juan Vargas and Susan Davis and Jess Durfee himself.

So what do the delegates actually do at the convention? According to Jess, “The main thing you do besides going to lots of parties is listen to speech after speech.” Home viewers only see the key speakers who are featured in prime time evening hours, but the speeches start much earlier in the afternoon making for a very long day.

Attending the convention is also a very expensive endeavor and delegates are expected to be totally self funded. One can expect to spend approximately $4500 to attend, including a hotel assigned to the California delegation that will cost $650/night per room plus meals and airfare. 

To put yourself in the running the first step is to ensure you are a registered Democrat and be clear in which Congressional District you live. Then file the appropriate form during the filing period of Feb. 29 thru April 13. The main form is “Form A” for district level delegates but Jess suggested since there is little extra effort to fill out Forms B and C for the other types of delegates submit them as well. All the details can be found here on the CADEM web site.

Once the forms are submitted it is a matter of organizing everyone you know to caucus for you. On May 1 there will be two caucuses per district, one for Hillary Clinton and the other for Bernie Sanders. You and those who vote for you must pick one candidate to support, then attend and vote in that caucus only. A delegate’s supporters cannot go to both caucuses and vote for two different delegates. Your supporters must sign an affidavit at the caucus that they will support that specific candidate. If your candidate drops out before the convention, then you also will not be going to the convention (unless you are an unpledged delegate.)

Jess provided some tips on strategy for how to proceed. Since delegates are divided by gender he advised teaming up with another potential delegate of the opposite sex. Men and women do not compete against each other. For example, in our 50th Congressional District there will be a total of 5 delegates elected: 2 men and 3 women. They will win based on highest number of votes received by gender. So each member of the paired male/female team can round up supporters who pledge to vote for both of you. Your supporters must also live in the same Congressional District as you.

After describing the mechanics of delegate selection in detail, Jess briefly provided a look at what the possibilities for taking back both the House and Senate could be. “The best case scenario for the House”, Jess explained, “is 206 – 229.” Therefore the House will likely remain in Republican hands. However, the Senate could change hands. Currently the split in the Senate is 46 Democrats and 54 Republicans so the Democrats need to pick up only 4 seats. There are currently 4 open seats from those retiring, plus three Republican and one Democratic vulnerable seats. If Democrats win the White House, where the VP is the tie-breaker in the Senate, then a 4 seat pickup gives the control back to the Democrats. However, 5 pickups will be needed in the event that Republicans win the Presidency.

But we aren’t going to let that happen, will we?

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