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Do you understand superdelegates?

April 11, 2016

America’s presidential election process is receiving a bit more attention than usual.

From the patchwork styles of voting to candidates like Ted Cruz benefitting from  Colorado’s GOP deciding not to involve the man on the street at all, questions surrounding the legitimacy of the process are heard from every corner.

One of the heretofore seldom discussed strategies and perhaps the least understood is the superdelegate wrinkle.

Even today, ask any ten people how it works and 2/3’s of them will answer with a blank stare.

Often people that vaguely understand the term can’t explain why it matters. Here’s why.

What if the NCAA football championship was run by the Democrats (the only party that uses superdelegates)?

In that scenario, a group of people within the NCAA would decide that the best thing for the fans was for a certain team to win.

Applying that to this year’s college championship game, they would “bank” 21 points to be applied after the semi-final game to the team they thought was the best choice to win.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that the ACC team was favored, and all the points were assigned to them.

That would mean that Clemson would have taken the field with potentially a three touchdown cushion before the kickoff, forcing Alabama to score 67 points to win instead of 45.

That in a nutshell is how superdelegates work in the Democratic party. The system holds them in reserve, i.e. not related to the delegates that are committed to the will of the people via the popular vote. They are there to hopefully protect the interests of the party and they automatically receive entrance into the national nominating convention.

In any scenario other than politics, that’s known as a fix. Sports fans, particularly the betting fans, wouldn’t stand for that for a New York minute.

The Democrat’s superdelegate process only came into being in 1968. Ironically, it was supposed to make the process more fair, but of course it has evolved to be almost exactly the opposite.

Here’s a quick explanation of why you should care.

Ordinary or pledged delegates are chosen by their state legislature or party apparatus, and are assigned to a candidate based on the state rules for their selection.

In proportional states, that usually means that whatever percentage of the popular vote went to a candidate, a percentage reflective of their margin of victory of the total state delegate count is bound to the candidate accordingly. It isn’t quite that black-and-white in actual practice due to differing state rules, but that’s the idea.

Incidentally, there is no such thing as a winner-take-all outcome in Democratic primary or caucus voting. The delegates are always awarded proportionately even if one candidate wins by a substantial margin.

Then there are the superdelegates, and they have nothing to do with the will of the people.

Superdelegates in the Democratic party are ostensibly free to vote for the candidate of their choice in the first round of voting, even if that person didn’t win in the delegate’s home state. Ordinary (pledged) delegates MUST vote for the candidate they are chosen to represent in the first round.

So far, out of the 767  Democratic superdelegates in 2016, 467 have aligned with Hillary Clinton and 31 with Bernie Sanders.

The rest are probably waiting to see which one of the candidates will offer them the best deal to be on their side.

Whether you think Bernie Sanders would have a chance without the superdelegates or not, it just plain smells bad.

To be clear, the Democratic party doesn’t specifically order superdelegates to vote for a candidate. Instead it defines who can be a superdelegate, and those people are normally all the Democratic members of Congress and present and former state party bigwigs, as well as governors, mayors, and other influencers within the party.

Since these folks usually have a lot at stake in their political lives, they will normally go with the person who can offer them the best support and/or perks down the line.

Republicans don’t have superdelegates as an identified voting bloc. The party rules do allow for three delegates (the state chairperson and two district-level committee members) from each state to be automatically seated at the convention, but they are normally required to support the candidate from their state that won the popular vote in the first round of voting.

If you want to know how that stacks up so far, Real Clear Politics has an interactive tool you can access here.

The whole problem with the Democratic party’s unpledged or superdelegates is that in effect, their votes can be “bought” to effectively confine the nomination to the first round of voting.

With Republicans, the process can drag on through several rounds of voting.

That’s not to say that any unpledged delegate can’t be influenced, and that’s the problem with the process.  Want an ambassadorship?  See which candidate offers the best er, incentive to vote their way.

The election process in this representative democracy we call the USA is supposed to guarantee that the government remains accountable to the people

In reality, the people are essentially at the mercy of a few top national party level political operatives, with the only change normally possible being the party that provides its upper echelons the best deal.

Somehow, that doesn’t seem very representative.

From → op-ed

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