Elections Explainer USA

Super Tuesday

What is Super Tuesday?

Super Tuesday is an American electoral tradition. It’s the turning point in most presidential campaigns when primary elections (or caucuses) are held in the greatest number of states. This year there are 12 states and one U.S. territory participating.

Who votes today?

Voters in nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont and Virginia) will go to the polls for both Republicans and Democrats. Some of them have open primaries, meaning voters can participate in either party’s primary.

Arkansas and Oklahoma have closed primaries, so voters in those states will have to be registered with a particular party to vote in their election.

Republicans in Alaska, Democrats in Colorado and both parties in Minnesota will hold caucuses.

Democrats in the territory of American Samoa will also caucus.

(Wyoming will also caucus Tuesday, kind of. PBS explained the difference between the primary and caucus systems in 2003.)

How important is Super Tuesday?

Really important. There are more delegates up for grabs in one day of voting than any other primary contest: 661 for Republicans and 865 for Democrats. To win their party’s nomination, Republicans need 1,237 delegates and Democrats need 2,383 delegates. Politico breaks it down:

No other primary day has as many delegates grouped at once, and thus no other day gives a single candidate as much of a chance to declare a sense of certainty about his or her position. The less local the race becomes, the more serious the contenders are as national candidates. Seven states will vote the following weekend, but starting on March 7, votes and delegates trickle in. Super Tuesday will therefore give the race clarity in a way no other single day can.

Even more importantly, none of the Super Tuesday contests are “winner take all” now, meaning all of the states will divide their delegates in some way. Every state but Virginia requires a candidate to hit at least 10 percent before they receive any delegates.

Because of the new GOP rules this year, The Atlantic explains: “A candidate could get 30 percent of the vote in several Super Tuesday states and walk away with only a quarter of its delegates—or, conversely, more than half.”

What does this mean for the candidates?

Here’s where the candidates stand so far:

Republican front-runner Donald Trump has won 82 delegates to date. Sen. Ted Cruz has 17 and Sen. Marco Rubio has 16.

Among Republicans, Cruz and Rubio may have the most to gain (or lose) today. This could be the end of the road for GOP candidates Dr. Ben Carson (five delegates) and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich (six delegates), although Kasich has already said he’s focused on winning his home state primary on March 15.

On the other side, Sen. Bernie Sanders is behind Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 26 delegates (91 to 65) and a whopping 433 superdelegates (450 to 23).

NPR has broken down the ways either candidate could win big today, but notes a Sanders sweep is less likely.

Polls close at different times across the country, beginning at 7 p.m. ET in Georgia, Vermont and Virginia.

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