Democratic Super-Delegate Process Reflective of GOP's Pre-Trump 'Fall in Line' Politics

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10:  Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a campaign rally at City Garage April 10,
BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 10: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton holds a campaign rally at City Garage April 10, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Voters will head to polling places for Maryland's presidential primary April 26. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Most Americans who vote for President in a Democratic primary election don't pay a whole lot of attention to the nuts and bolts of the Party's tedious bureaucracy.

Why should they? People are busy. Rightly so, they're preoccupied with putting food on the table and taking care of their families. For everyday voters, it's already time consuming enough to research and digest all the information about the candidates, watch the debates, make an informed decision, and then go vote. The rest should just simply fall into place where whichever candidate gets the most votes, wins, right?

After all, we live in a democracy and that's what government of and by the people is all about, correct?


Instead, in modern Presidential electoral politics, for Democrats, much of the structure for choosing who becomes the nominee isn't left to the voters -- it comes down to the big-shots and Party heavyweights who supposedly know best. At least, that's what some of them like to think.

I'm talking about super-delegates. Yes, the mysterious term that most Americans are just starting to learn about in 2016.

These are essentially individuals with superpowers who, unlike state-appointed delegates that are required to vote at the Democratic Party convention for the candidate their state voted for, the super-delegates are uncommitted and can vote anyway they please.

Comprised of Democratic Party luminaries, super-delegates are former U.S. Presidents, Governors, members of Congress, as well as high-ranking national and state party leaders.

Overall, these super-delegates constitute roughly 15%, or 712, of the total available delegates of 4,763. The remaining delegates are all state-appointed. Unfortunately for them, they have no superpowers besides the simple fact that they're super-democratic.

In order for a candidate to land the Democratic Party's nomination at convention, they need to cobble together a combination of 2,383 total delegate votes.

That means that if a candidate were to snap up all 712 super-delegates, that alone would represent nearly 30% of that candidate's overall delegate count needed to secure the nomination. Translation -- it means that 712 individuals could feasibly not only have an outsize role in the nominating process -- but that they could carry more weight than millions upon millions of Democratic Primary voters at convention. Pretty democratic, right?

The Sanders campaign, who likes to equate this super-delegate system to an oligarchy, doesn't seem to think so.

In fact, it illuminates the point that the super-delegate process resembles more of a privately-driven closed-door undertaking that's dictated by a handful of leaders and less like the representative democracy that most primary voters believe takes place when they vote.

Now in 2016, all 712 super-delegates aren't lining up behind just one candidate, but there is an enormous gap between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's cache and Senator Bernie Sanders'. To date, Clinton's amassed 469 to Sanders' 31.

Here's the rub. Sanders has nabbed wins in eight out of the nine last contests in the Democratic Primary, but countless political analysts, admittedly myself included, have said that it's next to impossible for him to mount an effort to catch up to Clinton in terms of delegates.

Over the course of the last month, he's cut into her state-appointed delegate lead by one-third, yet because Clinton's outpaced Sanders by a landslide on the super-delegate front, the math shows it's close to unimaginable for most experts to see how he catches up.

Compounding all this is the fact that even if Sanders wins a state, and decisively, often times he comes up short on the delegates, behind Clinton.

Take for example the Wyoming Caucus this weekend. Sanders bested Clinton by a significant 12-points, however both candidates walked away with seven state-appointed delegates. Clinton nonetheless prevailed though on the math because she's already solidified support from the state's four super-delegates, making her the net winner with 11 Wyoming delegates to Sanders' seven.

Another glaring illustration of this power-brokered system is the results from the New Hampshire primary. Sanders handily beat Clinton by a resoundingly 22-point margin, yet she's practically tied him on the delegate front. He won 15 state appointed delegates to Clinton's nine, but if you add in the six out of eight available super-delegates in the state who have pledged their support to Clinton, she's tied Sanders in delegates for the Granite State.

In response, the Sanders campaign has resorted to a strategy aimed at peeling away some of Clinton's already pledged super-delegates, particularly those from state's that he won. It's a tactic that then-Senator Barack Obama successfully embraced against Clinton in 2008 after several back-to-back victories over her campaign. His justification was the same as Sanders', that super-delegates should vote with the will of the people and that he was the candidate with the momentum.

The challenge for Sanders here, is that the delegate gap between Obama and Clinton in 2008 was much smaller than today's Sanders-Clinton dynamic. That's not to say he can't change this status.

With polls narrowing in delegate-rich states like New York, Pennsylvania and in California, if Sanders were to triumph over Clinton, the state of the race would be forever transformed. At that point, Sanders' calls for super-delegates to switch horses and to join his campaign would be reflective of the more competitive 2008 delegate battle.

Whether Sanders succeeds or not, the fact is that 2016 shined a bright spotlight on how this supposed democratic process, isn't very democratic at all. Instead it was constructed in a way to ensure that Party leaders have a lopsided influence on the nomination. Such a system is more emblematic of Republicans' pre-Trump era who traditionally forced candidates to 'fall in line' behind the GOP's Party bosses hand-picked choice.

With that in mind, the question is, regardless of who becomes the Democratic Party's nominee, come convention time, will Sanders supporters harness their outrage over this super-delegate system, overhaul it and make the democratic nominating process more democratic -- or will they keep the status quo? We'll have to watch and see what happens come July in Philadelphia.