West Virginia's Delegates Still Matter

With just three major candidates left in the race so far, the 2016 presidential primary process is starting to wrap up. So, how many delegates does West Virginia have, and at this point, does it even matter? Let's take a look at the numbers, how delegates are awarded, and the polls out of the state. With only one candidate currently actively campaigning on the Republican ticket, some may write off the Mountain State's 34 delegates, assuming they'll automatically go to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

While the state's demographics do suggest that the former reality show star would do well there, a quirk in the state's delegate allocation process could throw the entire process for a loop. Here's why: West Virginia GOP voters will be directly electing delegates to the GOP convention. Only the U.S. Virgin Islands has such a direct delegate selection process on the GOP side; states like Illinois, New York, and Connecticut elected "slates" or groupings of delegates based on whom the delegate indicated their support for.

But there is another hitch: West Virginia voters will have a pretty good idea of who their elected delegates will be supporting, since delegates have to declare ahead of time who they will be supporting, and it is listed on the ballot itself. That isn't the whole story, though.

So, it is also possible for delegates to declare themselves uncommitted, like Marshall County Commissioner Bob Miller. According to The Intelligencer—Wheeling News-Record, Miller is listed as an uncommitted delegate, but said that he is supporting the presumptive GOP nominee. "I'm impressed by his business record. I've been following him through the years, and he doesn't achieve that position in the business community without following through." Only the three delegates chosen by the RNC actually have to support the winner of the primary. though. Everyone else will be free to do as they please once the convention rolls around.

Even though the state's 34 (technically) bound delegates might not seem like a lot, at this stage, with nine contests to go until the summer national convention season, it is still the fifth largest prize up for grabs. Since the rules of the GOP convention will be hashed out just a week before the convention in Cleveland, by a group of 100 delegates (two from every state) at this stage, every single delegate — either elected by the people, or selected by the RNC — has the potential to be critical to the process.

Democrats have a less complicated process to elect their delegates from The Mountain State. Out of the 37 delegates up for grabs in the state's semi-closed primary, 29 of them are elected delegates, and eight are unelected superdelegates. Research from Public Policy Polling says that Senator Bernie Sanders is leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 45 percent to 37 percent. That's good news for the Sanders campaign, and there could be more good news on election night for the populist challenger.

A whopping 18 percent of West Virginia voters are undecided, which has to do with the general sense of estrangement from the national party, according to analysis from PPP. West Virginia's Democratic Party is a relative oddity nationally. The state's entrenched Democratic machine has had no problem electing Democratic governors since 2000, while the state has been voting solidly Republican in the Presidential contests during the same time period.

West Virginia votes May 10, along with GOP voters in Nebraska's closed primary. Results should start coming in sometime after polls close at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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