Unpledged delegates’ first introduced in 1984

Brittany Westerberg

Brittany Westerberg

At the 2008 Democratic National Convention, which is scheduled to be held Aug. 25 through Aug. 28 in Denver, Colo., the superdelegates will make up approximately one-fifth of the total number of delegates, according to the Minnesota Monitor. In this close race for the Democratic nomination, the superdelegates of the Democratic Party will play a large role and probably decide the nomination.

A lot of attention has been paid to them in the last few months, though never before has being a superdelegate been such an important role in an election. What is a superdelegate, people might ask. Here, therefore, is an explanation of what they are and what their role is exactly in an election.

Superdelegates, an informal term for some of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention, are formally known as “unpledged delegates.” These are political insiders selected based on their status as a current or former elected officeholder or party official. They are seated automatically at the convention and are free to support any candidate for the nomination. They are not required to stay pledged to any specific candidate, though their endorsements of candidates have been known to sway the public’s votes in the primaries.

According to National Public Radio, these delegates were first introduced in 1984 “as a way of giving ‘adults some supervision’ of the nominations and to make sure the ‘best’ candidate – according to the party – gets nominated.” They were introduced after Sen. George McGovern – a South Dakota senator – was nominated in 1972, a choice many party officials disliked. A similar situation happened when former Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter won the nomination in 1976, which was against the wishes of many in the party establishment.

The Republican Party also has unpledged delegates, 463 to be exact. Of those, 123 are members of the Republican National Committee.

South Dakota has seven delegates, including Democratic National Committee members Jack Billion, Deb Knecht, Nick Nemec and Sharon Stroschein. U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle are the other three superdelegates.

Minnesota has 14 superdelegates. These include Democratic National Committee members Donna Cassutt, Ken Foxworth, Nancy Larson, Brian Melendez, Mee Moua, Rick Stafford and Jackie Stevenson, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Representatives Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum, James Oberstar, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz and former Vice President Walter Mondale.