What you need to know about Super Tuesday
14 states will vote in primaries tonight, while American Samoa will caucus
Super Tuesday is the single biggest voting day of the U.S. 2020 election — outside of the actual vote for president on Nov. 3.
Democratic primaries are being held in 14 states, Democrats in American Samoa will caucus, and Democrats abroad begin to vote, too.
There are 1,357 delegates at stake on Tuesday out of the total 3,979 pledged delegates from all states and territories.
Where did Super Tuesday come from?
The term "Super Tuesday" is an unofficial term that was probably coined by journalists.
The New York Times says its earliest reference to a "super-Tuesday" was in 1976, when three states held primary contests on June 8 that year.
Several U.S. news outlets used the term in the 1980 election when eight states voted in Democratic primaries on June 3.
After that, it became a more commonly used phrase in the U.S. election season, as more states moved to vote in primaries all on the same day. In 1988, nine states voted in a March 8 Super Tuesday.
The states that take part in Super Tuesday can change each election year, as they decide when to hold their primaries. Due to a combination of long-standing traditions and state laws, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina hold their primaries and caucuses early, before Super Tuesday.
California and North Carolina
This year, California and North Carolina moved up their voting days to Super Tuesday.
California, the most populous and second-most-diverse state, had long complained about being effectively shut out of the presidential nominating process because its primary usually comes months after the initial four contests in the mostly white states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
"The voters of California deserve a larger role in selecting the nominees of both parties," Alex Padilla, California's secretary of state, said back in December 2018 when the state officially moved the primary date.
The thinking was similar in North Carolina. After traditionally voting in primaries in May over the past two decades, the state also officially moved its date to March in June 2018.
"Because by the time May gets here, the race for the Democratic nomination for president is going to be over," state representative David Lewis said. "North Carolina is a player now. Prior to moving this primary, they weren't."
Where does the race for delegates stand now?
Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the race to 1,991 delegates with 60, followed by former vice-president Joe Biden with 54. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who had 26 delegates, dropped out of the race Sunday. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, with her seven delegates, bowed out Monday.
Why Super Tuesday is important
The results could bring some new clarity to the Democratic race for the nomination.
Right now, there is no clear front-runner. Sanders has won a couple of contests, Biden is not far behind. But it will also be the first time Mike Bloomberg appears on a 2020 primary ballot, and could become the critical turning point for both the former New York City mayor and Sen. Elizabeth Warren in deciding whether to continue their campaigns.
Of perhaps greater significance, though, is the fact that tonight's primaries will reflect the opinions of a cross-section of American voters. The states involved are from right across the country. They have diverse populations. Nearly half have significant black populations. Texas and California have a high number of Latino voters.
No one will win enough delegates to be declared the Democratic candidate on Tuesday, but someone could pull out far ahead and take a commanding lead.
Delegate vs. superdelegate
The delegates to watch tonight are the pledged delegates. As mentioned earlier, there are 3,979 pledged delegates in the 2020 Democratic race, and a candidate will need 1,991 to win the first round of voting at the Democratic National Convention in July.
WATCH: Contested conventions: what happens when no candidate has a majority of delegates?
Pledged delegates are awarded to the candidates based on how they fare in the state's primary or caucus.
There are 1,357 pledged delegates up for grabs tonight.
There are also superdelegates — another 771 individuals, many of them party insiders — who are not bound to any particular candidate based on their state's primary votes, who can vote for any candidate in a second round at the convention, should one be necessary. That's a change. In previous years, superdelegates were allowed to vote in the first round.
Results from each state should be known within a few hours of their polls closing, with the exception of the state with the most delegates.
California accepts mail-in ballots for three days after Super Tuesday and officials actually have up to 30 days to count them, so results may not be final for several weeks.
Here is when polls close in each state (all times ET):
- Vermont 7 p.m.
- Virginia 7 p.m.
- North Carolina 7:30 p.m.
- Alabama 8 p.m.
- Maine 8 p.m.
- Oklahoma 8 p.m
- Massachusetts 8 p.m.
- Tennessee 8 p.m.
- Texas 8 p.m. (except for El Paso, where polls close at 9 p.m.)
- Arkansas 8:30 p.m.
- Colorado 9 p.m.
- Minnesota 9 p.m.
- Utah 10 p.m.
- California 11 p.m.
With files from The Associated Press