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UPDATE: Some Thoughts re. "Superdelegates" and "The Will of the People"

OK, this is totally off-topic, and I know I'm gonna face an earful in the comments over this, but I have to make a few comments on the ongoing "Democratic Superdelegate" brouhaha amongst Bernie Sanders's supporters.

First of all, there are 712 "unpledged" delegates (or "superdelegates") for the Democratic Party this year out of 4,763 total. That's around 15% of all Democratic delegates. The eventual nominee needs at least 2,382 total delegates to win the nomination.

So, it's important to keep in mind that pledged delegates from primaries and caucuses determine around 85% of the total. It's the remaining 15% who people are getting all worked up about.

Normally, of course, this isn't an issue because one candidate or another ends up securing more than half of the grand total via the caucuses/primaries anyway, making the SDs a moot point.

This year, however, similar to the epic 2008 primary race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, things are fairly close; according to RealClearPolitics, Hillary Clinton currently has 1,243 pledged delegates to Bernie Sanders's 980. There are still 1,828 pledged delegates left to be decided.

That means that in order to win the nomination without any superdelegates ("SDs" going forward):

  • Clinton would need 1,139 of the remaining pledged delegates (62.3% of them)
  • Sanders would need 1,402 of the remaining pledged delegates (76.7% of them)

The thing which is causing such a kerfuffle among the Sanders supporters, of course, is that 469 SDs have stated that they plan on supporting Clinton, while only 31 have stated that they intend on voting for Sanders. The remaining 212 SDs have yet to announce their intentions...and of course, any of the 712 SDs can change their minds between now and the Democratic National Convention, which starts on July 25th.

Assuming none of the SDs who've already announced their intentions change their minds, if you include the SDs who've made their intentions known, that brings the numbers up to 1,712 for Hillary vs. 1,011 for Bernie:

  • Clinton would need 670 more delegates to win (36.7% of the remaining pledged delegates)
  • Sanders would need 1,371 more delegates to win (75.0% of the remaining pledged delegates)

Alternately, assuming all 212 undeclared SDs were to break for one or the other:

  • Clinton would need 458 more delegates to win (25.1%)
  • Sanders would need 1,159 more delegates to win (63.4%)

Others have done the math to figure out how likely/unlikely either of these scenarios are, but suffice to say that that with the current SD declarations, Hillary has a much better chance of winning the nomination than Bernie...but only a somewhat better chance of securing a nomination-clinching majority of pledged delegates outright.

To be clear: If one or the other were to pull that off, then none of this SD fuss & bother would be necessary; the other candidate would concede, the DNC would proceed as normal, the SDs would vote for whomever for the record (almost certainly the winner, as a symbol of unity, etc) and that would be that.

HOWEVER, if neither one secures at least 2,382 pledged delegates, that's where the SDs come in...and that's why Bernie's folks are making louder and louder waves about demanding that the SDs support "The Will of the People".

Let's talk about that phrase for a moment, because it's being brought up a lot.

The current DNC rules state, as I understand it, that SDs are allowed to vote for anyone they damned well please to be the nominee...regardless of what they've said in the past. That means any or all of them could vote for Hillary. Or for Bernie. Or for me, for that matter. Or for Zippy the Pinhead, for all I know (Caveat: It's possible that DNC bylaws at least require that they vote for a living, breathing human being who's also eligible to serve as President--a native-born U.S. citizen, over 35, who hasn't been elected President two times already yet. It's also possible that they have to be a registered Democrat).

Now, some Bernie supporters say that all of the SDs should support Bernie "just because" (the general reason given is that he's supposedly "more electable in the general" which is not necessarily true, but that really amounts to "because I say so".

Others say that the SDs should support "the will of the people", which seems to be defined as either "whoever won the popular vote in their state" or "whoever won the most delegates in their state" (these aren't always the same thing). They generally mean that every SD in the state "should" support whoever won the entire state, which amounts to a Winner Take All policy...but only for SDs, not for pledged delegates.

This strikes me as incredibly disingenuous. If the SDs are WTA, why shouldn't the pledged delegates be as well (which is the case in many Republican primaries)? Bernie won Michigan, Sanders people say, so all of Michigan's SDs should go to Bernie...but if so, that suggests that all of MI's pledged delegates should go to him as well, right? And if that's the case, then shouldn't Hillary win all of Florida's delegates (pledged and SDs) as well?

Alternately, they might mean that the SDs should support whomever won "their district" in the state. If they're a member of Congress, I presume that means their Congressional District, whereas if they're a Governor or Senator, it would be whoever won the entire state.

There are some problems with this approach as well, however. Only around 260 SDs are Governor, Senators or Representatives. The remaining 450 or so are members of the DNC in various capacities, or Distinguished Party Leaders.

Who are they supposed to vote for? This includes past candidates, nominees and officeholders who've since retired such as Jimmy Carter, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Walter Mondale and so on...and yes, that includes Bill Clinton. Should Bill be required to vote for Bernie instead of his own wife? That doesn't seem right.

Speaking of which, all current Democratic Senators are SDs, which includes Bernie Sanders himself. Yet Hillary Clinton is not a SD, even though she's a former two-term U.S. Senator as well...because she's not currently holding office. That means that Bernie is allowed to vote for himself (1/4,763rd of the total), but she isn't allowed to voter for herself. That doesn't seem right either.

Here's another one for you: Jimmy Carter is from Georgia, but while he was President he lived in DC, of course. Does that mean he should be legally bound to support whoever won the Georgia primary, or the DC primary? What about Al Gore? He's from Tennessee, so presumably he should support whoever won his home state...but what if, by chance, he decides to move to another state between now and July? Is he bound to support whoever won that state instead?

Here's another one: Over half the SDs aren't elected public officials at all, but private DNC members, like (for instance) Jill Alper of Michigan. She lives in Grosse Pointe. Does that mean she should vote for Bernie because he won the state? But she doesn't (and never has) represented the state, so should she vote for whoever won the city of Grosse Point? But she never represented that city either.

UPDATE: I just realized the obvious answer to the question of SDs who are DNC members but aren't publicly elected officials: Their constituency is the Democratic Party ITSELF.

I mean this sincerely and with no hostile intent. The "Will of the People" logic says that Governors & Senators should represent the will of their states, while members of Congress should represent the will of their districts. Using that same argument, DNC members should represent the will of the DNC, should they not? That's what they were elected (by party members) to do, after all

Again, you can argue that DNC members not otherwise elected to public office shouldn't be allowed to be SDs, but as long as they are, it seems like that's who they should "represent", not a City, County, District or State.

Of course, whenever you hear "the will of the people" in regards to elections, you can't help but think of the 2000 Florida debacle and the Electoral College. Al Gore won the popular vote nationally by half a million people, yet lost the White House because of the mess in Florida specifically (with an assist from the SCOTUS). Should we use whoever wins the national popular vote? If so, Hillary is currently ahead of Sanders by 2.5 million or so.

Of course, that's complicated by the caucuses, which are about as anti-voter-friendly as it gets (no private vote, arcane/obscure rules, and you're required to hang around for hours on end). Furthermore, caucuses don't publish the actual "vote" numbers because there aren't really any "votes" to reveal.

A Bernie-supporting friend of mine for whom I have the deepest respect on other matters claimed that if the caucus states had used primaries, Bernie "would have" surpassed Hillary on the total popular vote tally because, according to their math, extrapolating the number of caucus-goers in Washington State out to the number who "would have" participated in a primary instead would meant around 1 million primary votes, of which Sanders "would have" won 750K to 250K, a net gain of half a million votes nationally, and so forth.

Now, setting aside the obvious (Washington State didn't have a primary, they had a caucus, making any "if" scenario moot), this is faulty logic. There's no way of extrapolating how many primary voters would have turned out if WA had held one or how they would have voted because a primary attracts a completely different turnout crowd than a caucus does.

Again, a real caucus requires people to hang around for hours on end as opposed to simply filling in a bubble on a sheet and sticking it in the machine. The demographics of caucus-goers are very different from primary-goers:

Caucuses, as opposed to primaries, by their very structure violate fundamental principles of voting rights. Their time-consuming, inflexible, Byzantine procedures discourage broad participation, presenting substantial barriers to the right to vote. It is not that the caucuses violate the Constitution—they are run by the parties, not the states, and do not violate voting rights as a matter of law. Rather, because of their exclusionary nature, they go against some of the core values we express when we talk about voting rights, such as the fundamental nature of the right, equality of opportunity to participate in the process, and fair access to the ballot.

Regardless of what reforms are considered, it is clear that the caucus is a deeply flawed method for selecting a nominee, and this problem can no longer be shunted aside.

.... Caucuses, as they are currently conducted, do not respect those rights and should not continue in their current form going forward.

...it’s been shown that caucus elections not only suppress voter participation but also literally systemically disenfranchise voters such as people with disabilities, military personnel on assignment, those physically incapable of participation and all other would-be voters who can not meet the “exact time and place” physical attendance requirement. Likewise, it’s clear that caucus elections skew overall voting results and have a disproportionate impact on selection of the Democratic nominee for President at the DNC convention.

From a voting rights standpoint the questions become: When millions of Americans are filtered-out or systemically locked out of the caucusing process, how can we say we have a nominee who is chosen democratically, by the will of the people? When so many citizens are excluded from the voting process how can we trust the outcome of elections?

I'm not saying this purely to bash caucuses as a whole (although that's part of it). I'm noting it to show that no, it's not a simple matter of ramping up the actual WA caucus turnout to match the turnout proportions of primary states.

Some people are also using the "one person = one vote" talking point. OK, that refers to the popular vote...but if so, why have delegates at all? Why not simply count up the total national popular vote and use that to decide the nominee? Of course, that still leaves the problem of caucuses.

Here's another problem: Not only do some states have caucuses, even among the primary states, the rules are very different from one to another: Some are open primaries, meaning that Republicans and Independents are allowed to mess with the Democratic primary turnout (and vice versa, of course). Others are semi-closed, where independents are allowed to participate but not members of other parties. Yet others are completely closed, where only registered members of that party are allowed. These factors skew the turnout numbers, the result percentages and the delegate allocation something fierce.

In other words, it's just as valid to say "HIllary would have won Michigan if they'd had a closed primary" as it is to say "Bernie would've won 500K more votes if Washington State had used a primary". Sure, that might be true, but it might not...and it's utterly moot now anyway.

My point is that none of these alternatives is, ultimately, any more "democratic" than simply allowing the SDs to vote for whomever the hell they want, which is what the current rules allow for anyway.

So, should we get rid of the SDs entirely? Perhaps...but bear in mind that the whole reason they were added in the first place was specifically for the purpose of allowing the party establishment to, yes, put the kibosh on a candidate if they determined that the candidate would be a disaster in the general election or had other utterly unfixable problems:

The superdelegates became part of the Democratic nominating process in 1982 to ensure the Democratic party has input on who the nominee is. They wanted to prevent another election like 1972's when George McGovern won the Democratic nomination, but lost every state minus one.

Ironically, Tad Devine, Sanders' top adviser, who was instrumental in the creation of the superdelegate process, defended their existance.

"It's pretty hard to win a nomination in a contested race and almost impossible to win without the superdelegates," Devine said in 2008 in an interview on NPR.

And no, I'm not saying that Bernie is "unelectable" or "more trouble than he's worth" here...but looking across the aisle, what about the RNC's Donald Trump headache. Don't you think Reince Priebus is kicking himself right now for not having a "SuperDelegate" system, or something similar, which would allow the powers that be to yank Trump off stage regardless of his pledged delegate tally?

Again, I'm not saying that I support keeping the SD system; obviously it's causing at least as many problems as it purported to solve. However, we're halfway through the primaries. If you think there are heated emotions and hurt feelings now, imagine how ugly it would get if the powers that be changed the rules that everyone agreed to play by in the middle of the game.

The bottom line is this: AFTER the nominee is decided, the DNC should absolutely take a good, long hard look at the SD system and either modify it or possibly scrap it completely...but doing so in the middle of the current campaign cycle would be a recipe for disaster no matter what the outcome. Hillary and Bernie joined this race knowing exactly what the rules were (or at least they sure as hell should have known).

Having said that, if Bernie is somehow able to make up his pledged delegate deficit between now and June 14th (the date of the final Primary in DC) that would be a reasonable time for the various interests to start pleading their case in a respectful an non-stalkery manner to the SDs about which candidate they feel that they should support. There would still be 5 solid weeks to sort it all out and avoid a contested primary.

However, the fact remains that according to the current rules in place, which both campaigns are fully aware of, the SDs are free to vote for whomever they think would be the best presidential candidate for the general election.