Super Tuesday: Which Districts Matter?

If you live in a state that votes on Super Tuesday, I’ve got some bad news for you: There’s a good chance your district won’t count. California’s 34 th congressional district, part of Los Angeles County and the state’s most heavily Hispanic district: worthless. Same goes for the 48 th district in Orange County, home to Laguna Beach and Irvine. The state’s 6 th district, which overlaps with the uber-wealthy Marin County, could turn out to be equally powerless. What do these districts have in common? They all have an even number of delegates.

Let’s back up for a second. On Feb. 5, as in all Democratic primaries, delegates will be allocated proportionally. In California, 241 of the state’s 441 delegates go to the winners of each of the state’s 51 districts. (The state also gives 81 “at-large” delegates based on statewide totals, plus many more PLEOs and “superdelegates.” ) So it helps to look at any given primary not as one big statewide battle, but as a flurry of minibattles for each district’s delegates.  

In California, each district has between three and seven delegates at stake. So say a district has four delegates. Unless there’s a landslide victory there, then each candidate–Clinton and Obama–will get two of those delegates. In a two-way race, a candidate has to get at least 62.5 percent of the vote—halfway between ½ and ¾, for you math buffs—to win a third delegate. Or say there are six delegates at stake. Then you’d have to win a little more than 58 percent to get more delegates than your opponent. As a result, it’s almost always a tie. It’s only in the districts with an odd number of delegates that one candidate is guaranteed to win more delegates than the other.

So, in a tight race like Clinton vs. Obama, most if not all even-numbered districts are likely to result in a draw—and therefore effectively not count. Click here to see a chart of how many delegates each district gets. As you can see, 32 of the state’s 53 districts have an even number of delegates. In the other 21 districts, the winner will only win one more delegate than the loser. (Again, unless it’s a landslide.)  

To give you a visual sense of how this works, we created this color-coded map. Blue districts have an odd number of delegates; yellow districts have an even number.

Extrapolate this example to every other Super Tuesday state, and you see why neither Clinton nor Obama is likely to emerge with a huge delegate lead.