Contested Convention: What It Is and the History Behind It

Contested Convention: What It Is and the History Behind It


A contested convention occurs when the outcome of a presidential nominee convention is unknown prior to going into the event. This happens when one specific individual hasn't earned the majority of the delegates prior to the party's convention. And, this is a scene that might unfold at this year's Democratic National Convention.

There doesn't seem to be one strong frontrunner of the group as of yet. Should a contested convention occur, it would take more than one ballot to choose a nominee. Delegates present on the convention floor will take part in rounds of voting. Delegates who are bound by a specific candidate must vote for that candidate. If no one wins the majority of delegate votes, there is a second ballot that takes place.

During the second ballot, a certain portion of delegates will become unbound and can vote for their choice, regardless of the candidate they were previously required to vote for at the event. If no majority results, more delegates will become unbound and so on until a winner results.    

What is the History of the Contested Convention?

Contested conventions have taken place at various times in the past but they don't happen that often. Most election periods will see one particular individual taking the lead for the nomination prior to the convention. The last time a contested convention unfolded was in 1952 when there were three ballots used in order for Adlai Stevenson to win the nomination.

From 1868 to 1984, there were 60 Republican and Democratic nominating conventions. During that time period, 18 of the candidates were nominated as a result of multiple ballots. Although the last actual contested convention was in 1952, the convention of 1984 experienced a potential for a contested convention. This occurred when Walter Mondale was short by a few dozen delegates. However, he managed to obtain those delegates in the first ballot prior to the nomination.

This year, when the 2020 Democratic National Convention takes place July 13-16, a candidate must secure 1,990 pledged delegates to win the nomination on the first ballot. If one candidate does not achieve this goal, a contested convention will occur and multiple ballots will be required to determine who secures the Democratic presidential nomination.

 Although there is still time left for a nominee to take the lead, the 2020 Democratic National Convention will be an interesting event to watch unfold this summer as this nomination is up for grabs at this point in time.

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