Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Who Are the Superdelegates?

Everyone's talking about the Superdelegates, but no one's really saying anything. Who are they? You may be surprised to find out their information is a not so closely guarded secret, and their ranks swell like a 70s funk lineup. Included in the lineup are former Democratic presidents (guess who Bill Clinton has pledged to vote for?); current Democratic governors, senators, and representatives; former representatives; high-ranking members of liberal organizations; DNC officials; and a sprinkling of others. Each superdelegate gets a vote at the Democratic National convention, above and beyond the elected delegates from state primaries and caucuses. Since most of the superdelgates come from elected positions such as state governors or representatives their role is largely superfluous in the nomination process.

After the 1968 DNC convention, changes were put in place to limit the power of DNC party officials in the delegate selection process and more responsive to votes cast during the campaign for nomination. This lasted until 1980 when party leaders felt their power had diminished too far. In response the superdelegate rule was enacted after the 1980 election. By 1984 party leaders were already in the process of usurping the will of the people, handing the nomination to Walter Mondale largely on superdelegate support, taking it away from Gary Hart. Mondale went on to lose 49 of 50 states to Ronald Reagan in the general election. Now in 2008 they could once again trump the will of the people.

In a perfect, or even rational system, your vote would count directly on who you want to be nominated for your party. In our system it goes towards a % of delegates for various candidates. Then there are the additional superdelegates who make up 20% of the nominating delegates at the convention. No one voted for these people to nominate anyone. Therefore your vote is 20% less effective because people like Bill Clinton need to be able to vote for their entrenched party peers (in this case, his lovely wife). It makes no sense to me but I enjoy how it is passed off so casually on Sunday morning shows as if the superdelegates play some important check in the nominating process. I haven't read that particular talking point. It seems to be to be a left over idea from the good-ol-boy network.

In closing, the superdelegates of the DNC are an antiquated notion, tied to a desire for a few people to retain undue control over the party. Their presence adds an unnecessary layer of obfuscation to an already ridiculously complex nomination process. The superdelegates are at best undemocratic and at worst completely unnecessary. Their existence is almost as unfortunate as the Electoral College.

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