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Who Are Unpledged Add-On Delegates?


Now, besides the superdelegates there is another group of Democrats who can vote for anybody they like at the convention. They're called unpledged add-ons. It sounds a little complicated but it could make a difference. There are only 76 of these delegates, but as Ina Jaffe reports, they could have real clout.

INA JAFFE: The best way to become an add-on delegate to the Democratic National Convention is to know somebody, maybe a lot of somebodies. Labor leader Stewart Burkhalter, who supports Barack Obama, was recently elected as an add-on delegate by the Alabama Democratic Party Central Committee. Burkhalter had two opponents and won by just six votes.

Mr. STEWART BURKHALTER (Add-on Delegate, Alabama): I've been around the Democratic Party for a long time, been around the labor movement for a long time, and I've made a lot of friends and there's enough friendship towards me to where even though they were a Clinton supporter, they supported me.

JAFFE: In New Hampshire add-on delegate Kathy Sullivan didn't have to compete for her state's single add-on spot. She's a Hillary Clinton supporter, but more importantly, a former State Democratic Party Chair.

Ms. KATHY SULLIVAN (Add-on Delegate, New Hampshire): I had talked to our state party chair several months ago before I had endorsed anybody and we had talked about my being the add-on delegate.

JAFFE: Which just recently became official. So if you're wondering why there are such things as add-on delegates, well unfortunately there's not a good or at least simple explanation says Democratic Strategist Tad Devine, who was present at the creation so to speak.

Mr. TAD DEVINE (Democratic Strategist): In the '80s, I was very much involved in the delegate operations of the three Democratic nominees.

JAFFE: The 1980s was the period when Democrats did away with winner-take-all primaries and adopted the proportional system of awarding delegates that's made the current nomination struggle so close and exciting or endless and unfair, depending on your point of view. And in a further effort to make the nomination process more small-d democratic, the national party decided that states that had the most direct voter participation selecting their delegates would be rewarded with one or more add-on delegates. Tad Devine says that states that let party power brokers pick the pledge delegates in some backroom somewhere, were supposed to get nothing extra.

Mr. DEVINE: Now what happened subsequently is in the course of time this just became something where every state got some more add-ons, sort of, you know, political spots, where former governors or other elected officials from the state who don't otherwise qualify for superdelegate slots, but nevertheless, you know, want to be included.

JAFFE: And since the nominee was usually known long before the convention, it was just like having an extra ticket to the big game to give away. But the add-ons are real delegates. They can vote, so now with the nominee still undetermined, it matters who they are and who they support. In California, which gets five add-on delegates, State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres is trying to remain above the political fray.

Mr. ART TORRES (California State Democratic Party Chairman): The only fair way to deal with it is to deal with the numbers from the election February 5th and that comes out to three for Hillary and two for Barack.

JAFFE: Not much of an advantage of Senator Clinton, but both campaigns are concerned that a delegate here, a delegate there could add up to the nomination.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ina Jaffe is a veteran NPR correspondent covering the aging of America. Her stories on Morning Edition and All Things Considered have focused on older adults' involvement in politics and elections, dating and divorce, work and retirement, fashion and sports, as well as issues affecting long term care and end of life choices. In 2015, she was named one of the nation's top "Influencers in Aging" by PBS publication Next Avenue, which wrote "Jaffe has reinvented reporting on aging."