Your Guide to the 2016 Massachusetts Super Tuesday Primary

Five things to remember when you vote on Tuesday.

Come Tuesday, hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents will join millions of people in 12 other states when they vote in the “Super Tuesday” primary. March 1 is the busiest primary day on the 2016 calendar and Massachusetts is right in the middle of it, just as it has been since 1980.

Many of those primaries have not been competitive in previous years because Massachusetts has had its own strong, viable candidates still in the race by Super Tuesday (Kerry, Dukakis, Romney, etc.). But this time around, things are different. The two major parties are without an incumbent or a candidate from Massachusetts in the running, leaving the state entirely up for grabs on both sides of the partisan divide for the first time since before the state participated in Super Tuesday.

In other words, this Tuesday is going to be unlike any other primary day we’ve seen in a generation, so before you go, here are five things you need to know.


How to Vote

If you weren’t registered to vote before February 10, you might as well stop here because you’re not eligible. Sorry—better luck when someone else runs for president in four years!

If you’re still reading, great! That means you’re at least somewhat civically engaged. Before you go vote, find out where your polling place is. Once there, you’ll meet some (hopefully) nice people who will inform you of your party registration status. Odds are, you’re probably registered as an *independent, meaning you can take a Democratic or Republican ballot. After you pick your poison, go to a little booth with a red, white, and blue curtain.

On the ballot of your choice, you face the choice of voting for president and for members of a party’s state committee. Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s right. Not only do you vote for a presidential candidate, you’ll also be able to vote for state party apparatchiks, too. Unless you’re deeply invested in intra-party state politics, this is something you can probably skip, or use the time-honored tactic of voting for people with funny names, and not think about it after you leave your polling place.

When you’re done, slip the ballot in the machine and get an “I VOTED” sticker so you can signal to the world: you voted, you care, and you get to complain later if everyone else voted wrong.

*As some of you have pointed out there is a bit of confusion over the term “independent” in Massachusetts. For a very long time, the terms “unenrolled” and “independent” have been used interchangeably to reference registered voters who do not belong to the Democratic or Republican party. In 2014, Evan Falchuk founded the centrist United Independent Party to launch his bid for governor and give Massachusetts voters another option on the ballot. To date, the UIP has registered around 20,000 voters, creating a potentially confusing situation for voters who think they are “independent” and not actually members of a political party. The situation prompted Secretary of State William Galvin to send notes informing all registered members of the UIP about their situation.

The UIP is not the first political party in Massachusetts to take advantage of the popular independent label. There are three additional political parties with the word “independent” in their name registered as political designations in Massachusetts.


Whom to Vote For

Good luck with that! You’re on your own, because we’re not going to tell you how to vote. You need to decide what is best for you and what you want in a president. If you’re truly desperate, consider picking based on who has the best SNL impersonator, though we won’t be held responsible when Ben Carson ends up president.

Of course, as much as you’re voting for a candidate, what you’re really doing is voting for convention delegates. Oh yeah, that’s right, this whole operation doesn’t end on Tuesday after the votes are counted.


What Happens Next for Republicans

The Massachusetts primary process distributes delegates in a proportional manner, but in different ways. Delegates are important because they’re the people who actually nominate the candidate at the party convention, just like electors in the Electoral College actually elect the president.

The Republicans distribute the state’s 42 delegates according to each candidate’s statewide showing of support, as long as they obtain a minimum of five percent of the vote. Sounds simple, right?

But wait, there’s more!

In April, Republicans will meet in what are basically caucuses to elect some of the individual delegates who will actually attend the Republican National Convention. Each congressional district is allocated three delegates for 27 in total. Another 12 delegates will be elected at a meeting of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, which will probably take place in June. The party’s chairman, national committeeman, and national committeewoman are also delegates due to their status in the party.

All delegates are pledged to candidates based on the results of the state election, but things become wildly interesting if no candidate secures 50 percent of the delegates before the convention. Delegates are only bound to vote for their pledged candidate in the first round of voting. After that, they are free to vote for anyone. This is a situation known as a brokered convention, something that hasn’t happened since 1976.


What Happens Next for Democrats

Massachusetts Democrats distribute convention delegates in a somewhat complicated proportional manner. Massachusetts has 116 delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, but only 91 pledged delegates are up for grabs in the primary.

The remaining 25 are what are known as superdelegates, or unpledged delegates, and can vote for any candidate they want because of their stature as a party leader or elected official.

Of the 91 delegates up for grabs on Tuesday, 59 are allocated by the results in each of the state’s nine congressional districts, while 20 are allocated on an at-large basis, meaning they are not beholden to a geographical region of the state. An additional 12 delegate spots are reserved for party leaders or elected officials. For whatever reason, the Democrats love to reward elected officials and party leaders with special status at conventions.

The actual delegates will be elected at two separate meetings—one in April for the congressional delegates, and one in June for the at-large and special party delegates.

All 91 delegates in play on Tuesday are “pledged by their conscience” on the first ballot at the national convention by the results of the primary. It is highly unusual if a pledged delegate does not vote for their state candidate of preference, but technically they are not formally bound. Massachusetts allows candidates the right of first refusal for the delegates elected at the April and June meetings.

As noted above, the 25 superdelegates are unpledged, free to vote for any candidate. As it stands, 14 superdelegates have pledged to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and six remain undecided. Some superdelegates, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, have remained quiet about whom they support. It does not appear Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has the backing of any Massachusetts superdelegates.


As Confusing as This Is, It Matters More Than You Think

The presidential primary process is long, grueling, and often very stupid, but it is an incredibly important part of determining the next leader of the free world.

On the Democratic side, it appears Clinton is destined to clinch the nomination at some point before the national convention. The math is very much not on Sanders’ side. Clinton has a huge, if not insurmountable, lead among superdelegates. Recent polling indicates Massachusetts could be one of a handful of states Sanders wins on Tuesday. A win here by Sanders would not only be a big deal for him, but it would be a repudiation of the state’s Democratic establishment’s strength, as it is almost uniformly lined up behind Clinton.

On the Republican side, New York real estate mogul Donald Trump is finally being seen by many as the inevitable nominee. For months, Republicans of all stripes have shrugged off the bombastic former reality star, but he has run through the primary like Godzilla through Tokyo. Only recently have party leaders and commentators come to grips with the reality of their situation.

Unless the anti-Trump vote consolidates behind one candidate, turning the race into a head-to-head matchup, he will continue to win the lion’s share of delegates with less than 40 percent of the votes. Even if consolidations happen after Super Tuesday, it may still be too late to stop Trump. The wind is at his back.