According to the 2020 Democratic Party rules, and in its upcoming Milwaukee convention - what is the extent of control candidates, or former candidates, have on their "pledged delegates"? Specifically,

  1. Are the pledged delegates people whom (a) the candidate suggested/listed? (b) submitted their candidacy for PDs of the candidate? (c) just party operatives who are supposed to reflect that candidate's "getting them"?
  2. Can a candidate who has not dropped out/suspended their campaign compel their PDs to support (a) him/herself? (b) another candidate?
  3. Ditto, but for a candidate who has dropped out and their delegates.

1 Answer 1


For item 1, the selection of delegates varies by state (you're going to hear this a lot). But the bottom line is that the pledged delegates are going to be party activists who support the candidate for whom they are pledged.

For items 2 and 3 there are only two relevant delegate selection rules:

No delegate at any level of the delegate selection process shall be mandated by law or Party rule to vote contrary to that person’s presidential choice as expressed at the time the delegate is elected.

Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.

In the modern primary era (post-1968) there has only been convention where the leading candidate (Walter Mondale, Dem. 1984) entered the convention without a majority of delegates, and in that instance, because the second-place candidate Gary Hart wanted the VP slot, the super delegates coalesced behind Mondale and he was elected on the first ballot. Bottom line has been that it doesn't matter how the PDs pledged to losing candidates voted on the nominee. Depending on the state, PDs may be bound to vote for their candidate on the first or even second ballot, but then are released to vote for whomever they like. Or they may be released to vote for whomever they like on the first ballot. But as noted above, it hasn't mattered in the primary era (this is one advantage of staggered primaries: it allows the voters to coalesce behind a front runner to bring him or her from plurality to majority status. The opposite is possible, but psychologically, people like to support a winner which might be why there hasn't been a brokered convention in the primary era).

It's worth noting that selecting the presidential nominee is not the only business of the convention. The other business the delegates are up to is putting together the party platform. So a losing candidate with a strong showing can still have a significant influence in dictating what the party says it stands for.

Delegates themselves are generally selected independently of the campaign. In fact Republican party rules allow the campaign to select less than a quarter of their delegates (I don't know what the rules are for the Democrats). As a general rule, delegates are selected by the state parties, sometimes in advance (some state primary ballots may actually list the names of the delegates under the candidate's name), sometimes at the state convention (which is most typical in caucus states).

Further reading:




  • "who support the candidate for whom they are pledged" - support how?
    – einpoklum
    Mar 5, 2020 at 19:59
  • Generally by willing to pledge to vote for them at the convention. The exact details can vary from state to state (and more dramatically between parties). In some cases they may be selected by the campaign, in others they're picked through a state party process.
    – Don Hosek
    Mar 5, 2020 at 20:08
  • Let me rephrase... can some guy/gal off the street sign some declaration and qualify to be a PD for some candidate, with no vetting by the candidate's campaign?
    – einpoklum
    Mar 5, 2020 at 20:16
  • 1
    It will vary based on state and party, but a general answer to this is yes, as long as they're a party member (and there may be other qualifications as well—if I recall correctly, the California Democratic Party requires that you've lived in your current district for a certain amount of time).
    – Don Hosek
    Mar 5, 2020 at 20:55

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