I've looked all over for information but I just don't understand how the state by state votes are tallied during the convention. After watching the DNC broadcast tonight I was confused to see that Biden, despite losing California and Nevada's primaries to Sanders, had more votes cast for him in each state during the "roll-call."

I understand that there were previously unpledged superdelegates which have since been all but abolished before this primary, so how does Biden come away with more votes in two states which he lost? The California votes tally up to 494 so that makes sense, but Biden ended up with nearly 100 more votes than he got in the primary which he lost.

I assume that some votes were "given up" from the Warren campaign or whatever, and that Biden also received the remaining 79 or so unpledged delegates, but then I thought that these delegates were no longer able to vote for whoever they wanted. Anyway any information on how this works would be great. Thanks!


2 Answers 2


I think you are maybe misunderstanding the extent to which the rules on superdelegates changed. The rule change which was voted through in August 2018 did not stop superdelegates from voting for who they wanted, but instead barred them from voting in the first ballot, and then only if there is no clear winner from the national primaries & caucuses.

In this case, Biden is the clear winner of the primaries, so superdelegates could vote in the first round, and voted for who they wanted. I haven't been able to find a breakdown of delegate votes at the convention, but Rule 13(J) of the 2020 Delegate Selection Rules states:

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

Warren and Bloomberg both endorsed Biden, so we can assume that their pledged delegates voted for him. In California, this gives Sanders 225 votes, and Biden 172 + 11 + 7 = 190. We can then infer from these totals how the superdelegates voted - 6 voted for Sanders, giving him a total of 231, and 73 voted for Biden, giving him his total of 263.

Nevada is a little simpler to work out; in the caucuses, Sanders won 24 delegates, Biden 9, and Buttigieg 3. Assuming Buttigieg's delegates voted for Biden, and all 13 of Nevada's superdelegates did the same, this gives us the final total of 25-24 for Biden.

As proof that superdelegates can vote for who they want, let's look at a state where only Sanders and Biden were allocated delegates in the primary; Wisconsin. Biden won 56 delegates, while Sanders won 28. At the convention, however, the state's 13 superdelegates were not unanimous, with 11 supporting Biden, and 2 supporting Sanders.

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    Thanks for the breakdown! That's basically what I assumed but didn't realize the national primary results were taken into account when states' superdelegates cast their votes.
    – dover
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 17:20
  • Doesn't the first paragraph contradict the first? 1. First ballot excludes superdelegates. Then, if no candidate is "a winner", superdelegates vote in subsequent ballots. 2. Biden is "a winner", so superdelegates voted in the first ballot anyways. Which of these is wrong?
    – Sam
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 21:30
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    @Sam You seem to be reading the first paragraph as "First, the delegates are prohibited from voting in the first ballot, Then they are prohibited from voting in the second ballot if there is no clear winner." which is also how I read it as first. After reading it a few more times, I believe it means "They are prohibited from voting under two conditions: first, that it's the first ballot, and second, there is no clear winner." That is, if there is no clear winner, then they are prohibited from voting in the first ballot. Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 22:06
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    I'm not sure if that's the correct reading, but it appears they are allowed to vote only if their votes are meaningless. Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 22:06
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    @Acccumulation It was done that way on purpose as a reform following the 2016 election. If someone has already won, the superdelegates cast their meaningless votes and everyone moves on. If the convention is contested, they don't vote on the first ballot, but they (and all the other delegates, who are now unpledged) vote on subsequent ballots until a majority is reached. Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 4:11

At the 2020 Democratic National Convention superdelegates cannot vote in the first round of voting if no candidate has a delegate-majority by using only pledged delegates. Joe Biden has such a majority so the superdelegates can vote for the nominee but since Joe Biden already had a majority it is simply a formality.

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