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The Voter’s Speakeasy featuring unbiased reporting and insight into life at Vote Smart from our staff, interns, and volunteers.

What is a Contested Convention?

2016 May 26

Every four years the two major parties hold conventions to nominate their presidential candidates. For the last several decades, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates were undisputed prior to the nominating conventions, following decisive primary and caucus victories.  However, historically, this hasn’t always been the case - Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford were all nominated from contested conventions.  And following an unusual primary season, we may see a contested convention for the first time in a long time.

What is contested convention?
A contested convention means no candidate has earned enough support going into the convention to guarantee their nomination. Candidates must secure a majority of delegates to win the nomination. Delegates cast their vote at the convention itself, making the candidate’s nomination official. Candidates earn delegate support through primary and caucus victories, and the support of superdelegates.  In an uncontested convention, the winner is a foregone conclusion, and voting never goes beyond the first round.  

Delegates vs Super Delegates
States participate in the process through a combination of delegates and super delegates. Delegates are often rank and file party members, while superdelegates are often  party officials, elected officials, or former elected officials.  In the Republican party, superdelegates make up 7 percent of total delegates, while in the Democratic party superdelegates make up 15 percent of total delegates. 

State delegates are divided up in proportion to the percentage of votes candidates received in their state’s primary or caucus, except in winner take-all-states, and a few states ...

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