So Who Are the Unpledged Superdelegates & Pledged Delegates, All Unelected?

April 23, 2016 by David Dehlendorf


Ever wonder how the Washington State Democratic Party will select its unelected superdelegates and its other unelected delegates to the Democratic National Convention on July 25-28 in Philadelphia? If so, read on.

Last week Islanders’ Voice published an article describing two alternative routes, other than through election at the local level at the recent precinct and LD caucuses, and/or upcoming county conventions, open to members of the general public of Washington State seeking selection as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. We will now describe two other restricted routes that are not available to the general public and are not subject to local voting. But in light of the on-going controversy over superdelegates, you may find this information interesting.

These two additional restricted routes to the Democratic National Convention are:

  1. Unpledged Party Leaders and Elected Officials (Unpledged Delegates) – There are 715 national Unpledged Delegates, representing 15% of the total convention votes (4,766). Unpledged Delegates are also generally referred to as “superdelegates” because they are not chosen by vote and because they are not officially obligated to vote at the convention for any particular presidential candidate. Washington State has 18 of these Unpledged Delegates, with no alternates, equivalent to 15% of our state’s total of 119 delegates to the convention. In Washington and other states, no one applies to be a candidate for these positions and there is no vote to select them. Instead, the 18 Unpledged Delegates from Washington State are automatically selected by virtue of their occupying the following specific positions: a) Members of the Democratic National Committee from Washington State (8); b) the Democratic Governor of Washington State (1); c) All of Washington State’s Democratic members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives (8); and d) “Distinguished Party Leaders” from Washington State (1). This final category is used every four years to balance the total for the state. Therefore, in 2016, only one Distinguished Party Leader will be selected as an Unpledged Delegate in order to balance the total at 18. (It is not known how this leader will be selected.) The Unpledged Delegates are not required to pledge support for any presidential candidate prior to voting at the convention, although many voluntarily pledge their unofficial allegiance in advance to a particular candidate, as Rep. Rick Larsen and Senator Patty Murray have already done to Hillary Clinton. According to recent press reports, 10 of Washington State’s 18 Unpledged Delegates have indicated they support Hillary Clinton, with none supporting Bernie Sanders. However, Unpledged Delegates can change their support at any time, including at the time of their first convention vote; and
  2. Pledged Party Leaders and Elected Official Delegates (PLEOs) – These are not generally considered to be superdelegates, although like superdelegates, PLEO positions are not open to the general public. Nationwide, there are 491 PLEOs, equivalent to 10.3% of the total convention votes (4,766). Washington State will send 12 PLEOs, with no alternates, to the Democratic National Convention, equivalent to 10.1% of our state’s total delegation of 119. Unlike the Unpledged Delegate positions described above, eligible PLEO applicants greatly outnumber the available positions, so PLEOs are selected by a special committee. PLEO candidates must apply to the State Democratic Party by June 10, including a pledge of a specific presidential preference. Those eligible to apply are: a) Big city mayors; b) State-wide Democratic elected officials; c) state legislators, such as Sen. Kevin Ranker, Rep. Kris Lytton, and Rep. Jeff Morris; and d) Other specified local, county, and state elected officials and party leaders. A list of all PLEO applicants who file for each presidential preference is given to the respective committee representing each presidential candidate, with each committee then having the right to reject for any reason any applicant pledged to his/her candidate before the final selection process takes place. Those applicants who are not rejected are then subject to a final vote to select the 12 PLEOs by the State Party Committee Representing Legislative Districts on June 19, the day after the State Convention. The 12 available PLEO positions are allocated by this committee to each presidential candidate in the same proportion as each candidate received at the state’s congressional district caucuses. The PLEOs are required to vote in the first round of voting at the convention for their pledged candidate unless released by the candidate. If there is a second and later round of voting, they can vote for any candidate.


There is no doubt that the Washington State Democratic Party’s delegate selection process is overly complex, although if you would read through the official selection plan at least ten times, I am confident that everyone will understand it. It is accessible at:

More importantly, the selection process has been criticized for being undemocratic when compared to a pure primary system, giving too much power to political elites.

At the San Juan County Convention on May 1 in Friday Harbor, delegates will consider a resolution, to be forwarded to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee for possible further action, that would either modify, or replace with a pure primary system, the existing caucus and delegate selection process in time for the 2020 presidential elections. It is not known what the state party’s position will be on this issue.

You be the judge. The San Juan County Democrats and Islanders’ Voice would welcome your comments on the pros and cons of the existing delegate selection process.

%d bloggers like this: