A Short-Term Solution to the Potential Superdelegate Problem

by: David Sirota

Thu Feb 07, 2008 at 07:41

This is a special edition of Strategery prompted by the fact that the superdelegate question has been a topic of significant debate at OpenLeft. - D

There's a lot of legitimate concern out there about so-called superdelegates deciding who receives the Democratic presidential nomination. Superdelegates, as a refresher, are delegates (mostly elected officials) who are free floaters - they can decide who to support for the nomination without any regard to the outcomes of primaries or caucuses. Your state voted for Obama? Sorry, your state's superdelegates are fully allowed to cast their nominating votes for Clinton. Same thing the other way around - it's just straight up undemocratic.

As I discuss more fully in my upcoming book, The Uprising, superdelegate system was created to make sure the party Establishment - not rank-and-file voters - gets control over the nomination. And if such superdelegates make up the margin of victory for the nominee this year, then it means the Establishment will have control over who the nominee is - not us the voters.

So how do we prevent the Democratic nomination from becoming a smoky backroom deal? The Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party provides a model.

David Sirota :: A Short-Term Solution to the Potential Superdelegate Problem
Here's a press release that just came over the transom:

Party Chairman John Knutson Announces his Choice for President

AUGUSTA- This Sunday, Democrats all over Maine will participate in the Maine Democratic Party Caucus and choose who they want to nominate as this year's Democratic presidential candidate.  The results of the caucus will determine how Maine's 24 Delegates to the Democratic National Convention are allocated. Above and beyond the state delegates, who are allocated through the caucus and State   Convention, Maine also has 10 unpledged delegates, called "Super-Delegates," who are able to support any candidate they choose.

These "Super-Delegates" are made up of elected officials like our Governor and two Congressmen, as well as party leaders like John Knutson, who is Chair of the Maine Democratic Party.  

On Thursday, Knutson announced that he will support the candidate who wins the majority of the vote in Maine.  "For all intents and purposes, Maine now has 25 delegates up for grabs since I will be embracing the candidate who wins Maine's caucuses," said Knutson. As a Super-Delegate, Knutson will represent this winning candidate at the Democratic National Convention.

Knutson continued, "I see this as a way to further empower Democrats across the state of Maine and make the results of our caucus more influential. It is clear that this Presidential campaign will come  down to a race for delegates, and I believe that by pledging to support the winner of Maine's caucuses, I will help to increase Maine's importance in the nomination process."

This is a smart and moral move by Knutson - and one we should start encouraging everywhere. We're not going to be able to reform the superdelegate system before this year's convention, so the best we can hope for is pressure on existing superdelegates to simply represent how their states voted. This is a short-term solution and in no way would substitute for longer-term reform of the nominating process. But within the confines of this specific election, this solution is critically important.

Find out who the superdelegates are in your state, and then start putting pressure on them to do what Knutson did. We've got to get ahead of this thing before the horse-trading and backroom dealing starts.

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Good idea (0.00 / 0)
Barbara Boxer promised to do this quite a while ago and I think there have been others as well, so at least there is some support for the idea.  I doubt it will sway too many people, but the more the better.

As an aside, however, let me just add that I think its a bit deceptive to paint superdelegates as inherently undemocratic, with the implicit suggestion that pledged delegates are inherently democratic.  The current pledged delegate system is a disaster and highly distortionary as a vehicle for representing the will of the voters.

John McCain: Health insurance for low income children represents an "unfunded liability."

Boxer did agree to do this... (0.00 / 0)
which means she is now a committed Clinton delegate.

I don't support this movement. Why should the statewide totals decide, not the Districts? What about caucuses? How do you determine this? I believe the super delegates should consider their state/districts but it should remain an individual decision.

[ Parent ]
I think most people agree (0.00 / 0)
I think most people who are pushing this idea would agree that district representatives should vote according to their district.

While state-wide officials should represent how their state voted.

[ Parent ]
Here's the scenario that worries me more... (4.00 / 1)
That we have a national pledged delegate winner who is nevertheless denied the nomination at the convention due to the superdelegates.

It's for this reason that I would prefer to see the superdelegates pledge to unite around a clear leader in the national pledged delegate leader. --- This also seems like the only way to bring an early end to the nomination process and not have it drag on until August.  We need the superdelegates to coalesce around whoever, be it in March or in April, begins to gather up a serious lead.

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[ Parent ]
Crafty (0.00 / 0)
While I wish I could commend the politicians for promoting democracy, but I doubt that is their motivation.  Politicians are very risk adverse and I think that's what's really going to drive this thing.

Nobody really knows who's going to win, so the politicians are trying to hedge their bets.  They can vote for Hillary or Obama without pissing off the other.  That way if the person they vote for loses, they won't have pissed off the next president.  "Hey, I REALLY wanted to vote for you, but that's only not what my voters wanted."

Granted, no matter the motivation, the result is the same. More and Better democracy, but I give very little credit to the triangulating politicians who are going to do this.

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Ignores 50% of the delegates (4.00 / 1)
About half of the super delegates are just party hacks. Unless you want to let DC and NoVa decide the contest then having them simply represent where they live isn't going to fix the situation.

The Math (4.00 / 1)
I would like to know how this breaks down when we consider the states each of the respective candidates has won (and may win). Could this result in a victory for one candidate when the pledged delegate advantage is enjoyed by the other? If so, I don't know that a better and more democratic solution isn't that whoever wins the most pledged delgates wins all the superdelegates.  

Would probably favor Clinton in the theoretical case... (0.00 / 0)
...in which all elected officials from the state went to the winner of the state.

It would be essentially the same as increasing the number of pledged delegates from every state, but allocating them in a winner take all fashion.  I have seen elsewhere that if the current system was WTA, Clinton would have a significant lead so I can only assume this would work in her favor.

But this isn't actually going to happen, so its kind of immaterial.

John McCain: Health insurance for low income children represents an "unfunded liability."

[ Parent ]
Your Idealism vs. On-the-Ground Pragmatism (0.00 / 0)
The DNC members I know, for example, got their positions through someone's or some club's endorsement and as Super Delegates their votes have never been their own.  Why were so many "regular" Democrats for Clinton, even African-Americans?  Even some congressmen and women are similarly tied into organizational networks that limit their discretion in these matters. It is a worthy approach but, as in other reform efforts, don't expect the old ways to bend easily.

Not really a solution (4.00 / 1)
I really like the idea of talking through these issues before the convention rolls around. In that spirit, here are two issues with this approach.

(1) Who is "the winner" of a state or congressional district? The candidate awarded the most delegates (and when in the delegate voting process)? The candidate who wins the most caucus or primary votes? The candidate that wins the most caucus sites in a CD? What about ties?

In clear cut cases it'll work fine. But, in those clear cut cases how likely is the delegate to vote in a different way, anyway? It's the close cases where things will be getting really messy.

(2) The winner-take-all electoral college issue. This solution brings us no closer to small-d democratic ideal of one-person-one-vote direct representation. If you caucused in a Dem. congressional district with two Dem. Senators and a Dem. Gov. your vote counts a whole lot more than if you primaried in a congressional district with all Republican Rep., Sens., and Gov.

All that being said, I do think there should be as much transparency in the super-delegate voting as possible. Let's track them closely. Let's keep the pressure on them not to ignore what the will of their voters were.

Equally important, how about some major reform before 2012!

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State Winner-Take-All makes a comeback (0.00 / 0)
If this were followed.  

Might not actually be a bad idea, and would definitely keep the mathematically inclined vote counters busy, parceling and totaling up superdelegates for each candidate, from each state, based on who won.


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