Everything you wanted to know about Super Tuesday but were afraid to ask

Tuesday, March 3, is not just a regular Tuesday, it’s Super Tuesday, the 14-state (and one territory) voting extravaganza that adds up to about one-third of all delegates available to Democratic candidates hoping to nab their party’s nomination.

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A voter wears an "I voted" sticker at the YMCA in Burbank, California, on March 2, 2020, during early voting for the California presidential primary election ahead of Super Tuesday. Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 presidential elections felt so far away for so long, until they didn’t. 

Tuesday, March 3, is not just a regular Tuesday, it’s Super Tuesday, the 14-state (and one territory) voting extravaganza that adds up to about one-third of all delegates available to Democratic candidates hoping to nab their party’s nomination. It’s the biggest delegate day of the primary season (1,357) and could potentially give one candidate a lead significant enough to end the contest right then and there. 

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The 2020 presidential elections felt so far away for so long, until they didn’t. 

Tuesday, March 3, is not just a regular Tuesday, it’s Super Tuesday, the 14-state (and one territory) voting extravaganza that adds up to about one-third of all delegates available to Democratic candidates hoping to nab their party’s nomination. It’s the biggest delegate day of the primary season (1,357) and could potentially give one candidate a lead significant enough to end the contest right then and there. 

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) currently leads the field in national polls, and it looks like he’s the most likely to receive a plurality of those delegates, especially in the two largest delegate states in the nation, California and Texas. 

But as former candidates like Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg endorse former Vice President Joe Biden, there may be a surprise consolidation of moderate power that leads to no clear majority winner and a contested convention this summer. And let’s not forget about billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who has spent $217 million of his own money on ads leading up to Super Tuesday, dominating the competition. 

Even if the sun rises on Wednesday with no clear winner, the major voting day will likely cause some candidates to have a come-to-God moment and face the stark realization that they have no path to the nomination. You can expect the field to narrow shortly thereafter. 

Here’s everything you need to know going into the day of reckoning.

What’s at stake 

A Democratic candidate needs 1,991 delegates pledged in order to secure the presidential nomination. With 1,357 on the line (Bernie Sanders currently has 60 delegates and Joe Biden has 54), this day makes a huge difference. Below are the states and territory that will vote or caucus tomorrow and the number of delegates on the line. 

The 15% Rule 

One important part of Super Tuesday is the 15% rule, which was first adopted in 1988. The rule works to shut out candidates who are on the precipice from taking delegates away from frontrunners.

Under the rule, a Democrat needs to win at least 15% of state or district votes in order to win even one delegate. This could hurt candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and stop her from gaining momentum. The change in math can also bump delegate counts for top candidates. The more candidates who cross that threshold, the more evenly distributed the delegates are. But if just two candidates make it, then more are awarded to candidates (another reason Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s pre-Super Tuesday dropouts are so important). 

Origins of Super Tuesday

States typically get to pick their own primary dates, so long as they take place between March and June (The Democratic and Republican National Committees like to reserve February for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina). But a lot of these states want to exert as much power in the election as possible and so they like to go as early as possible: the first Tuesday of March. 

Some say the concept of Super Tuesday truly began in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter was challenged in the primary by then Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). Carter’s strategists convinced some large southern states to vote early in order to give Carter a momentous win early on. Other southern states joined in subsequent elections, and by 2000, large states across the country began participating in early voting. 

Super Tuesday peaked in 2008 with the number of states and delegates on the line, but has since declined slightly. 

What to expect this time around

The term ‘contested convention’ has recently gone from a controversial phrase whispered in DNC hallways to one shouted by Joe Biden on CNN’s State of the Union. This Sunday, Biden said that he would not cede the nomination to Sanders this July during the convention in Milwaukee if he was winning in delegate count but had not secured the 1,991 delegates needed to secure it. “The rules have been set,” Biden said. “You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game.”

That means that if this Tuesday isn’t a wash for Sanders, we will likely be anticipating a brokered convention this summer, putting whoever is the eventual candidate in a weaker position when it comes time to face off against President Donald Trump. This would be the first brokered convention since 1952. 

“If you reject the candidate who has the most votes from the people and you win it through superdelegates,” Sanders said on ABC’s This Week. “Do you think you’re going to have the energy and the grassroots movement to defeat [Trump]? I honestly don’t think you will.”

These votes will also be the defining moment of the Bloomberg campaign, which has purposefully eschewed the first four elections in order to focus on these larger-delegate states. If he cannot pick up a significant portion of votes here, he’ll have trouble continuing on with his campaign. Warren, with just eight delegates in her pocket, faces a similar fate, and without the billions of self-funding that Bloomberg enjoys. 

What could go wrong?

After the debacle in Iowa, election security experts are on high alert. Los Angeles County will be rolling out all new voting machines, in North Carolina more than half of voters will be using new machines to vote. In Tennessee, 70% of voters will use on unverifiable direct-recording electronic (DRE) voting machines. In Texas about 40% of voters will use DRE machines. 

“Voting systems need proper planning, testing and training, especially when a new type of equipment is being introduced,” said Marian K. Schneider, president of Verified Voting. “There also needs to be a way to monitor, detect, respond and recover from technological failures—no matter the cause—and to ensure that election officials have the proper resources and tools to run elections.” 

Outbreaks of coronavirus across the United States may also keep voters away from crowded polling stations with touchscreens, limiting turnout. Some districts have added curbside ballot drop offs, so that voters don’t have to exit their cars to cast their ballots. Across the country, voting stations will have extra hand sanitizer, plastic gloves and disinfectant wipes. 

Maria Benson, the communications director for the National Association of Secretaries of State, said she would “defer to states,” to create their own contingency plans if necessary. 

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