AUGUSTA, Maine — The Iowa presidential caucuses are over and the political world is focused on Tuesday’s primaries in New Hampshire, but it’s not too early to think about Maine’s caucuses.
Republicans’ race for the state’s 23 delegates at the nominating caucus on March 5 is totally unsettled, while Bernie Sanders figures to give national frontrunner Hillary Clinton a challenge for Maine’s 30 Democratic convention delegates on March 6.
Here’s how it’ll work.
What’s the difference between a caucus and a primary?
Maine is one of 13 states whose parties use caucuses — local meetings at which members can show support for candidates — to choose nominees.
Historically, presidential nominees were chosen this way, but states have largely replaced caucuses with simpler, more modern primaries — secret-ballot elections run by the state.
How do you vote in a caucus?
All of Maine’s caucus locations haven’t been settled yet, but Democrats will caucus by municipality. Jeremy Kennedy, the party’s executive director, said 75 percent of sites have been determined and the party is on track to have one in every town.
Republicans will meet at 24 regional sites that will be announced soon, said Jason Savage, the Maine GOP’s executive director.
Unenrolled or unregistered voters can register in either party up to an hour before the caucuses, but if voters want to switch parties and caucus, they have to enroll in their new party by Feb. 19. Democrats can request absentee ballots, but Republicans have to show up to vote, except for active duty and disabled veterans.
At the caucuses, people can speak on behalf of candidates, but the parties will vote in different ways. Republicans will use paper ballots, while Democrats’ method is more public. Backers of each candidate will divide into groups to gauge local support.
How are the delegates split up?
The nominating caucuses are the most important — but not the final — part of the apportionment process. From here, delegates go to the state party conventions, then to national conventions later this year, where nominees are officially crowned.
But how the parties allocate delegates is the most complicated part of this process. Let’s start with some basic rules.
First, Republicans are allocating all delegates based on candidates’ shares of a statewide vote, unless a candidate gets more than 50 percent of votes. If that happens, that person gets all the delegates.
Democrats are allocating 10 for shares in the 1st Congressional District, seven in the 2nd District and eight for the statewide winner.
Second, Democratic candidates can’t qualify for delegates without getting 15 percent support at the district or state levels by the state convention. Republicans’ threshold is 10 percent statewide.
Republicans’ process is pretty straightforward.
If there’s a nine-person Republican race where only four candidates win 10 percent or more — for example, candidate A with 30 percent, B with 25 percent, C with 20 percent and D with 10 percent — the other candidates’ numbers would be tossed out for the purposes of delegates, who would be apportioned based on only those four candidates’ totals.
So Savage said in that scenario, candidate A would get eight delegates, B, seven, C, five and D, three.
But Democrats could leave a lot to be decided.
Democrats are giving the rank-and-file control of only 25 of 30, leaving five “superdelegates” — party officials who can support whoever they want. Because of them, Clinton effectively holds a lead before voting.
Three superdelegates — U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District, Maine Democratic Party Vice Chairwoman Peggy Schaffer and national committeewoman Maggie Allen — have endorsed Clinton, while national committeeman Troy Jackson supports Sanders.
Phil Bartlett, the state party chairman, is also a superdelegate who hasn’t endorsed, but superdelegates won’t come into play officially until the national convention, so set them aside for a second.
Let’s say in March, candidate A wins 53 percent of votes in the 1st District, while Candidate B gets 47 percent. Candidate A does better in the 2nd District, getting 55 percent to B’s 45 percent and winning 54 percent statewide.
In that scenario, Kennedy said Candidate A would get 14 delegates — nine from districts and five statewide — to B’s 11 — eight from districts and three statewide.
But let’s assume that candidate B is Clinton and she gets four superdelegate votes by the national convention, while Sanders just gets one. Maine would give both 15 delegates, even if Sanders won at the polls, hurting him if the race remains close.