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How to game the DNC delegate vote without hurting your
By Bill Mahoney
12:43 p.m. | Apr. 8, 2016
ALBANY — Due to obscure party rules, the votes of some Democrats participating in New
York’s April 19 presidential primary may count more than others when it comes to the selection
Most of New York’s delegates to the national convention are awarded by congressional district.
Each district will be given between five and seven delegates allocated by proportional vote.
By selecting those delegates strategically, a voter could have an outside influence in determining
which individuals are sent to the convention, without affecting the fortunes of Hillary Clinton or
Consider the ballot that residents of Albany County will see. Voters are asked to select one
candidate for president by filling in a bubble near the candidate's name. To the right of each
candidate’s name, they’ll see a list of the district’s seven delegates. Each has a bubble next to his
or her name, and the instructions simply say to “Vote for any SEVEN.”
This suggests to most voters that they should vote for the seven delegates pledged to their
candidate of choice.
(A highly unscientific survey of several likely voters confirmed this. “Is this a trick question?”
said one doctoral student who backs Hillary Clinton when asked which bubbles she thought she
should fill in. “You bubble the bubble next to Hillary, and then the bubbles for seven delegates.
What am I missing?”)
But if voters fill out the bubbles for each of their candidate’s seven delegates, they’ll
effectively waste a portion of their vote.
“The savvy voter will just cast four votes for delegates: they’ll vote for a Clinton male, a Clinton
female, a [Bernie] Sanders male, and a Sanders female they most want to represent those
delegations,” said Doug Kellner, Democratic co-chair of the state Board of Elections.
This is due to the proportional representation formula used to award delegates. In the
congressional district that contains Albany, one candidate would need to get about 93 percent of
the vote in order to walk away with all seven delegates, a showing that’s unlikely to be reached
by either candidate anywhere in the state. In most cases, their delegates will be split fairly
evenly: In a district with six delegates, a candidate who wins a two-way contest with between 50
and 58.33 percent will get three delegates.
This means that most of the time, only some of the delegates for the winning candidate will be
able to go to their party’s convention. If a voter fills in the bubbles for all of them, the totals for
each would increase by one. Which is to say that among the prospective delegates pledged to
support the same candidate, the vote would be a wash.
Consider a hypothetical example in which Sanders wins four delegates after receiving 10,000
votes in a district. If 9,999 of his backers filled in the bubbles next to their names, they’d cancel
each other out, and the one voter who filled in only four bubbles would break the tie, having sole
say over who gets to take a trip to Philadelphia on Sanders’ behalf on July.
If they also cast three votes for Clinton delegates — theoretically breaking a tie on that rival list,
too — they might determine the district’s entire delegation.
Delegates are split by gender — if a candidate wins four, the top two females and top two males
will represent them — so a voter could vote for one male and one female and not worry about
one not making it because they were beaten by the other. Voters can also split their picks among
For those who will back Clinton, for example, their vote next to her name is the only one that
matters for determining how many delegates she’ll get. So if they happen to really like one or
two of Sanders’ delegates, they can give them their backing to increase the odds that they’ll be
one of the proportional delegates he’s awarded, without worrying about decreasing the number
of delegates Clinton will receive.
Since this vote on delegates won’t have any impact on who will actually win New York’s
presidential primary, many voters could probably care less. But for those who might happen to
adore their state legislator but abhor their mayor, voting for only the former would increase the
odds that the mayor would get the honor of being elected as a convention delegate. Voting for
only some delegates could also be a valid strategy for residents of sprawling upstate districts who
want to make sure somebody from their town rather than one a hundred miles away will get to
mingle with powerbrokers.
“The number of people who will actually understand this process is miniscule, and for that
reason, from a policy point of view, one questions why they put the delegates on the slate other
than to just show your local endorsements,” said Kellner.
“In terms of actually selecting the delegates, one could argue that the Republicans got it right,”
he said. “The problem with the Republicans is that the state committee will actually choose the
The current rules for selecting Republican delegates in New York awards three of three delegates
per congressional district to candidates who win a majority, and two of three to those who win a
plurality. The rules came into being because of a scuffle at a bar in Tampa between a former Mitt
Romney campaign official and a New York Republican leader over how delegates were chosen