Friday, April 4, 2008

Making Every Vote Count (But Some More Than Others)

Ever since the 2000 Presidential election, the Democratic Party has repeatedly emphasized election reform. We have heard calls to ensure that every vote counts as well as proposals to eliminate the Electoral College in favor of a strict popular vote. The 2008 primary campaign season has shown the hypocrisy of some of these positions and the impracticality of others.

The Democrats commitment to making every vote count did not even survive until the beginning of the primaries. Prior to the start of the primaries, states began competing to have the earliest primary in order to capture national attention and prestige. When Michigan and Florida moved their state primaries beyond February 5, the date imposed by the Democratic National Committee, the Democrats decided to strip both states of their delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Through no fault of their own, Democratic voters in Florida and Michigan were denied representation in the Democratic convention.

Both states held elections anyway. Hillary Clinton won the primaries of both states. In Michigan, many of the other candidates were not even on the ballot. With the close race for the Democratic nomination, there is much discussion of having another election in both states, but problems with paying for and getting approval for second elections makes this unlikely.

A second problem with the Democratic primary system is that Democratic delegates are awarded based on the percentage of the popular vote that they won in each state. This means that, unlike the Republican winner-take-all system, neither candidate can score a complete victory. This means that the Democratic primary drags on, costing both candidates money and wearing down their supporters, while the Republican nominee can raise funds and consolidate his base of supporters.

The Democratic system of apportionment does have exceptions. In Nevada, Clinton won 51% to Obama’s 45%. Ordinarily, this would mean that Hillary Clinton would win more delegates, but in Nevada, Obama won thirteen delegates to Hillary’s twelve. This is because Nevada delegates are apportioned by congressional district and Obama won more districts.

A decidedly undemocratic policy of the Democratic Party is the use of superdelegates. Superdelegates are not elected by primary voters and are not bound by the results of the primary vote. Superdelegates are party leaders and elected officials and are free to vote for any candidate they choose. A superdelegate vote is equivalent to approximately 10,000 primary votes.

Superdelegates were introduced in 1984 to re-establish the role of party leaders in the primary process. Changes in the Democratic delegate selection process after 1968 had put more control in the hands of voters and less in the hands of party leaders. Superdelegates currently make up about 20% of delegates to the Democratic convention.

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are openly courting superdelegates because they are free to vote for anyone and for any reason. Much like the 2000 presidential election, the winner of the Democratic primary popular vote may not necessarily become the Democratic nominee.

The situation is made even more confusing because some superdelegates can appoint other superdelegates. In many states, these super-duper-delegates, chairmen of state Democratic Parties, can appoint anyone they choose to be “unpledged add-ons.” The 76 unpledged add-ons are distributed based on population and Democratic strength. Each state gets at least one add-on.

The Democratic primary process does not instill me with confidence that Democrats would be capable of finding simple and workable solutions to the problems that America faces. Voters should carefully the Democratic primary mess before allowing the Democratic Party to tackle such important issues as healthcare, tax reform, and the War on Terror.


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