Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Super delegates aren't the problem

Lately I’ve heard quite a few people complain that super delegates subvert the election process, that their vote unfairly counts more. That's oversimplifying it.

First, while Democrats have the super delegates, Republican votes are magnified too by the "winner take all" philosophy toward state contests---this is what has allowed McCain to take the lead. Thus, a minority of voters and/or a minority of states can dictate the nominee, provided that nominee wins states with large numbers of delegates.

On the Democratic side, super delegates or no, everything is still up for grabs between Clinton and Obama, as the Democrats count delegates proportionally--meaning a candidate can lose a state while still gaining delegates. [This primary may well need to be resolved at the convention---and there's nothing wrong with that.]

I also dislike the super delegate system, and frankly, the party itself didn't mean for it to work the way it's playing out and may scrap it in the future. Still, it's not as simple as certain people getting extra votes.

80% of the process is the popular vote. The thinking was that such a majority would decide the nomination. The other 20%, the super delegates, were created to make sure Democrats got to the convention with a clear nominee, all battles settled--NOT to hand pick a winner.

We also need to remember that democracy in America is representational, not absolute. Further, these delegates didn't just appear--they've been elected, over and over and over (that's how they rose so high in the party), and were chosen by others elected over and over and over. Consequently, they were indirectly chosen by the voters. I don't like it when Bush vetoes a bill because he personally has a different ideology (in fact, I find it an abuse of his power, one that defies the will of the American people on such issues as stem cell research), but clearly one could argue he was elected to wield that power (and Congress can still override him if support for the bill can gather a 2/3 majority).

Super delegates aren't the only way people get more voting power. Remember all those candidates who have nice dropped out of the race? Their delegates can now vote however they wish---technically unguided by the voting public. They might follow the recommendation of their former candidate--giving that person considerable voting power, but then, one could argue that power was earned via the state primary elections. And what of the caucus states? Those elections are FAR from over--the caucus is only the first step, and again, many of those delegates now find themselves free to pick new candidates.

And finally, all we've done is elect delegates to represent us at the convention. We can't force them to vote as pledged. Yes, they almost always do--but not always. [The same is true of the electoral college, incidentally.]

More problematic in terms of fairness is the mess created by the Michigan and Florida contests. Since those states broke the party’s rules by moving their primaries before Super Tuesday, leadership stripped those states of their convention delegates, and the candidates agreed not to campaign. Hillary Clinton won those states anyway--but then her name was the only one on the ballot! Not exactly fair--and now that the election is close, she wants those delegates seated.

Unless either she or Obama pull ahead significantly enough to decide the contest, this will be the real mess for the Democrats.

Writer

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