Maybe you noticed that John Edwards finished second in the Iowa district delegate vote count, but got one fewer national delegate than Hillary Clinton. Perhaps you were surprised that Hillary Clinton got more votes in New Hampshire, but the same number of delegates as Barack Obama. Surely you’ve read some Obama claims that he “really” won Nevada in delegates 13-12, even though Clinton got more votes. It’s enough to make me flashback to the Electoral College map. So, what’s going on here, and how does it relate to New Jersey? This is the answer as I understand it.
In Jersey, we’ve been told there is “a” primary coming up, but there are actually twenty primaries happening on February 5. Each of these primaries occur in a “Delegate District,” which is two of the familiar “Legislative Districts” combined. For example, I’m in Delegate District Two, which is LD3 (Sweeney’s) and LD4 (Madden’s) combined. Each district elects three or four delegates to the national convention. Now the LDs have (roughly) equal population, but the districts that have fewer Democratic voters only get three delegates. Each of these are truly separate primaries, in the sense that if Hillary Clinton turns out a crushing victory in District 20, it has the same effect in my district as her votes in Los Angeles: None whatsoever. There’s a total of 70 delegates at stake in these twenty elections.
Note that at the end of the day, outcomes like a 5% win or a 10% win in votes may not be reflected at the district level. In a three delegate district, I think there are realistically only two possible outcomes: Either Clinton-Obama-Edwards tie with one each, or one of the them gets two, one gets one, and the other gets nothing. A candidate gets nothing if “he” fails to get 15% of the votes (I don’t think that will happen to “she”). A four delegate district, however, could realistically split 2-2-0 or 3-1-0 or 2-1-1. As the district results are added up, it’s possible that just as in the early states, a small lead by one candidate is not reflected in the delegate totals. Obama’s counterintuitive Nevada result was powered by a small victory in an odd delegate district while splitting even-delegate districts by not losing by too many votes.